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DNA TEST COULD SOLVE MISSING-TEEN MYSTERY.

Byline: ALEX DOBUZINSKIS

Staff Writer

CANYON COUNTRY -- Rocked by the discovery of a family secret, teenager Ronald David Kruska left home nearly three decades ago to hitchhike down Interstate5.

The former Saugus High School football player has been missing since that day, Oct. 10, 1978.

Now, a sheriff's detective wants to use technology developed since the teen went missing to see whether his DNA matches any traces left on a jersey found years ago in Sierra Madre alongside human remains.

The only problem is the jersey itself is now missing from evidence storage. And Kruska's three siblings, who recently gave mouth swabs for DNA testing should the jersey turn up, await word about their brother.

"I think the best outcome for us would be that he's alive somewhere, and we can just get together and talk about what's happened over the years," said brother Richard Kruska, 51. "But the next best would be to at least know what happened to him."

A lot has changed since Kruska went missing from his Canyon Country home in 1978. It was the year that "Superman" came out in theaters, AC/DC released the album "Powerage," and John Paul II became pope.

Kruska was a troubled 19-year-old when he went missing, said Richard Kruska, who is principal of a Catholic high school. The teenage Kruska was running with the wrong crowd, drinking and using marijuana, but he wanted to join the federal Job Corps, and he looked forward to being in his sister's wedding, Richard Kruska said.

He also had learned he had a father different from his siblings, and, upset, he left home hitchhiking, Richard Kruska said.

"The fact that he didn't report back, we kind of thought he was angry about the whole thing," Richard Kruska said.

Because they thought he was out on his own, Kruska's family didn't report him missing until February 1979, four months after a friend dropped him off near the I-5 to hitchhike, said Detective Richard Kennerly of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Cold Case Unit.

Kruska's siblings get together a few times a year, and when they do, they often talk about their missing brother. The siblings were all at the Marina del Rey home of Richard Kruska the week before Super Bowl Sunday when Kennerly called, and he asked about the missing brother the siblings had been talking about that same day.

It had been 15 years since Richard Kruska had heard anything about the investigation into his brother's disappearance. But Kennerly, who came out of retirement to work cold cases, had found a possible connection -- one involving a blue jersey found in 1981 in a Sierra Madre wash.

Kruska had a blue football jersey in high school, when he was No.84 for the Saugus Centurions. The blue jersey found in 1981, along with partial skeletal remains from a victim about the same height as Kruska, bore the number44.

An old coach from the school has told Kennerly he doubts the No. 44 jersey found in Sierra Madre was from the school. But Richard Kruska said his brother would often wear athletic gear, so there is a possibility No. 44 could have belonged to the teen.

"It would be a lot easier if we had the ... bones," Kennerly said. "Nowadays, it's a lot easier to work these things because they take DNA from every body, and they have DNA in the bones."

But the bones and the jersey were discovered years before DNA-matching technology was used to solve crimes, and the bones were disposed of, he said. The case file indicates the jersey went to the Coroner's Office, but it cannot be located. Still, Kennerly is confident.

"I think we're going to find that jersey," Kennerly said.

The Coroner's Office keeps evidence in a storage area in the basement of its Los Angeles facility, and Kennerly said he has asked the office to look for the jersey. In some cases, the office sends material to the Sheriff's Department for storage, and Kennerly said that could have happened with the jersey.

For its part, the Sheriff's Department has a big Costco-size warehouse for evidence storage, with walk-in freezers and forklifts to pick material off metal racks.

"Sometimes things get misplaced, sometimes they get pushed aside," said sheriff's Lt. Dan Cruz, who handles evidence storage.

"But that doesn't happen very often. We're pretty good at retrieving the evidence that we put in the warehouse."

Now that DNA testing is more common, the law requires the department to hold on to all biological evidence.

Richard Kruska remembers his little brother as a tough kid, not afraid to wrestle and play football with his older siblings.

"A lot of things were going on in his world at the time that I don't think we knew what was happening to him," Richard Kruska said.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the Sheriff's Department, at (562) 465-7816.

alex.dobuzinskis(at)dailynews.com

(661) 257-5253

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2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 2) Ronald David Kruska has been missing since Oct. 10, 1978. Investigators think there could be a link between Kruska and a blue football jersey, right, that was found with some human remains.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 16, 2007
Words:868
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