Johnny Coy

On October 18, 2023, the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office announced that Johnny Lee Coy was the lead suspect in the March 3, 1983 rape and murder of 14-year-old Rashell Ward in Red Bluff, California. The case has been cleared by exception due to the death of Coy.

Ward was abducted on her way to school around 8 am in the morning. She was found at 11:30 am. She had been bound, sexually assaulted, and then killed by a gun shot.

A DNA profile was obtained from a rootless strand of hair that was found on Ward’s body. Astrea Forensics produced a profile suitable for genealogical analysis.

The FIGG investigation was conducted by the FBI in partnership with the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office. The final confirmation was made through kinship testing with living relatives of Coy.

Henry Lee Lucas confessed to the murder of Ward. However, he was quickly eliminated as a suspect due to inconsistent evidence that cleared him of involvement in the crime. He was never charged, and the case was never cleared.

Coy lived in Red Bluff at the time of the murder and was known sex offender. Coy was jailed for the 1989 abduction of a mother and daughter at gunpoint during which he sexually assaulted the 21-year-old daughter. He was sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment. He died in prison in June of 2019.

Coy’s DNA was taken and entered into CODIS in 1989. However, it was not a match to the crime scene sample. Police stated that they believe that a false negative was generated because Coy’s sample had fewer STR loci than the crime scene sample, which was produced with newer technology, and did not register as a hit. Coy’s DNA was then tested using modern forensic technology and re-uploaded to CODIS. It produced a hit to the sample collected at Ward’s murder.


Gardner, Ashley. “Tehama County Sheriff’s Office Solves 1983 Murder Case of 14-Year-Old Girl.” KRCR News, October 18, 2023. Accessed October 27, 2023.

Johnston, George. “Rashell Ward Murder Case Solved.” Daily News, October 18, 2023. Accessed October 27, 2023.

Taylor, Michelle. “Rootless Hair Sample, Genealogy Help ID Suspect in 1983 Murder of 14-Year-Old.” Forensic Magazine, October 25, 2023.


First Name Johnny
Last Name Coy
Other Names
Victims 1 (Details)
IGG Started nd
Case Cleared 2023-10-18
IGG Org FBI IGU; Astrea


Case ID Name Age Case Opened Location Investigating Org Most Serious Charge Disposition Court
2082 Rashell Ward 14 1983-03-03 Red Bluff, CA Tehama CSO Second degree murder Case was cleared by exception due to death of perpetrator n/a

Last updated: February 13, 2024

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Case data and narrative licensed under CC BY 4.0: Dowdeswell, Tracey (2023), “Forensic Genetic Genealogy Project v. 2022”, Mendeley Data, V1, doi: 10.17632/jcycgvhm96.1. All other content, including photos, have been added.