Missing Man Identified as Body Found Last December

Austin Cade Brown

Image from a Facebook page set up in Austin Cade Brown’s name.

Today, a mother in Oklahoma watches for a package carrying her son’s remains. She’s tracking its path using a shipping number as the container makes its way across the country to her home. Inscribed on the package are words she asked a Humboldt County funeral director to write down. The message addressed to all who handle the remains of Austin Cade Brown simply says, “Mama requests that you handle this package as if he were your own son.”

The mother, 69-year-old Vicki Anderson, who asked those words be written on the package last talked to her 41-year-old son one year ago on December 13, 2016. Even though he was homeless, Vicki said he never went long without reaching out to her. “My son called no matter what,” she said. “Austin had problems and I know that….He had addiction issues, [but] it wouldn’t be more than 10 days that he would go before he called me. It doesn’t matter what he was doing.”

When Christmas came and went last year, she was worried sick. “I knew something wasn’t right,” she said.

Vicki didn’t have a lot of money but she was determined. “…I got hold of two women I found on Facebook. They worked with the homeless [in Humboldt County].” Vicki explained her concern about her son to the two local women and “they made posters and put them all over McKinleyville, Arcata, and even Eureka asking him to call home.”

He never did.

Austin Cade Brown

Austin Cade Brown

For the next 11 months, Vicki worried and wept. “He’s my youngest,” she explained. “I lost my oldest when he was nine to an accident. I kept thinking it can’t happen here again.”

She also did what she could. She entered him into NamUS, the National Institute of Justice’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. She worked with the Nor Cal Alliance for the Missing and reached out to the news media including us.

“I called the Public Information Officer of Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and formerly entered him missing in…January,” she told us.

The two women who helped Vicki, Megan and Annie (who didn’t want their last names used), confirmed they had searched for Austin throughout the last year. However, though Annie put her phone number on the flyers and posters no one reached out to her. “I never got one call from anyone,” she said.

But Austin was familiar to many. “A lot of people did know him,” Megan explained. “Most [street] people we talked to recognized him. Everyone really liked him.”

But Annie said that when they dealt with people in authority, “I’d get concerned that [Austin’s disappearance was] not considered as important because of his lifestyle.”

As the year slowly unraveled, Vicki said she cried almost every day. Sometimes she heard terrible stories that she didn’t know if she believed they were true or not. At one point, a woman who had known Austin told Vicki that he had been murdered, “In June, I came across an address that I had sent [Austin] some Christmas presents,” Vicki said. She found a number and called. According to her, the woman there exclaimed, “I thought you knew. Someone shot him and threw him off the [Samoa] bridge.”

Vicki called law enforcement and told them what she had heard, but they reassured her that they hadn’t found any bodies that fit Austin’s description.

Eventually, the Thursday before Thanksgiving, Vicki got a call from the Humboldt County Coroner’s Office. An officer told her that the DNA from a body that was found on December 26, 2016–13 days after she last heard from her son–matched Austin’s.

Vicki said she felt “sick..just sick…I suffered for 10 and a half…11 months knowing he was in trouble. When I was out there begging for help, he was there …Girl, they had him there the whole time.”

Lt. Mike Fridley of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department confirmed that the body found on December 26, 2016 near the Ma-le’l Dunes was Austin Cade Brown. Fridley said that Austin’s body was “pretty decomposed–all it was wearing was shoes and socks.”

He explained that though an autopsy showed Austin died from “cold water drowning” his body was “pretty well decomposed–no teeth, no fingerprints.”

The agency sent off DNA in January, Fridley said. They didn’t get results back until late November. Then they were able to match the results with Brown.

Fridley pointed out that the DNA is sent to a lab that is clogged with cases. He said, “A rush takes six to eight months.”

Since she got the news about her son, Vicki has been struggling. In part, this is because she would never see Austin alive again, but also because she is frustrated by how long it took for her to learn of her son’s death after his body was found.

“We need a change,” she said her voice choked with tears. “People are waiting years to hear…to find out what happened to their children…People are missing their children.”

Vicki said she doesn’t really blame the local Coroner’s Office, “I know how hard it is to do jobs like that,” she said. But, she would like to see changes in the system to help the families.

“This is a horrible system,” she said. “Something isn’t right…We can’t do anything about how this was done for Austin,” but she has a list of changes she’d like to see made to help families in the future.

  • She’d like for the DNA process to be sped up
  • She’d like a better system for connecting those who are missing with the unidentified bodies that are found
  • She’d like better communication between the Coroner’s Office and the advocates for the missing.
  • She’d like the Coroner’s Office to enter unidentified bodies into NamUS.
  • She’d like those deceased family members who have been identified sent home sooner.
  • She’d like to see more sensitivity training for both law enforcement and the Coroner’s office in how to deal with the families of the missing and she’d like for them to get support to integrate their training into their workplaces.

But most of all, she said, “I want some perceptions changed of those who are homeless…People have no idea who is out there on the streets and why.”

Vicki said she would like to tell Austin’s story so that people’s hearts “open to those who live outside the norm… Addiction is not a disease…It is a symptom of the state of our society… .”

She would like people to show more compassion to each other. “Handle everyone you see on the street as if they were your own son and daughter,” she pleaded. “Don’t get cynical and detach so much that you don’t have a heart anymore.”

When she spoke to us on the 28th, she said, “[Austin]’s not home yet. He’s still sitting in the Coroner’s Office. We won’t have peace until he is home.” But today, Vicki’s watching as the package moves across the country from Humboldt County to Oklahoma. “When he gets home to me, he can rest in peace,” she said. “He’ll not be cold or hungry anymore.”

[Vicki and Austin’s first names were used throughout the story at the request of Vicki]

UPDATE December 1: Austin is home.

Earlier Chapters:




  • So so so very sorry for your loss I to know what it is like to lose a child it’s a pain that never goes away again very sorry for your loss

  • Pretty sad. Kind of wierd of the phone call to the woman who said that he was shot.

  • Oh mama…I am so sorry.
    Austin’s story is beyond tragic. The points you make are ever so valid.
    Agreed DNA results often take FAR too long…yet sometimes I see rapid DNA returns as with the lost young lady near Hayfork.

    Yes 100% all John or Jane Does should be listed automatically on the national missing person site without question or delay.

    RIP Austin <3

  • So a missing man is found deceased, with clothes and tattoo, in the water, plenty of identifying marks, and the mother is not informed or asked to come down to identify. How many bodies are they finding that they can’t make a simple phone call? This is the sad state of affairs of the homicide division and the sheriff’s department in general. My heart goes out to the other relatives of the murdered, missing and inexplicably deceased. Competency and compassion are not on significant display at the Humboldt Sheriffs Department.

    • [Vicki, Please don’t read this comment.]

      Austin’s body was very much changed. He had almost no hair and had been disturbed by animals. He was found only wearing socks and shoes. Fingerprints and dental records couldn’t be used as the tips of his fingers were damaged and all his teeth were lost. While the fact he had tattoos could be seen, from my understanding of talking with people who have some knowledge, they weren’t intact. Here’s an article on bodies found immersed in water. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/news-blog/how-long-do-dead-bodies-remain-inta-2009-06-10/

      • Thank you Kim for the warning to mama. I love that you care so much in your reporting. This is such a sad story. You write so eloquently and from a point of mindfulness and compassion and I for one appreciate that so very much.

        • Aww, thank you. Vicki was very eloquent. I know I should have been more professional but I cried several times when interviewing her.

          • I didn’t read it. Thank you.

          • Kym- I am a very very close friend of Vicki’s even though she is 20 years my elder… her son and my boyfriend were very close, and my boyfriend befriended him and gave him odd jobs to work to help support himself, along with his momma!!
            Through these months of the unknown… I became close to Vicki personally (before them, not much in common) … I’ve sat in her truck, & just sat and listened … to every detail of whatever she wanted to express at the time… until I got the message that – they had officially matched Austin’s DNA- in the week or so since, all I can do is be there for her… today I got the message … Austin is home… as his very good friend is making his urn… in our shed in the backyard… I can’t bring myself to go say one last goodbye! To the ash’s of Austin… for I want to remember the free spirited young man- that entered our lives… & most certainly left an impact on Miles life… tomorrow I’ll go see Vicki! Hug her tight and go pick out a picture frame… of the picture she sent me that’s her favorite!! To put next to the memorial she has made for him… God bless you & your diligence! You let her words he heard, & I couldn’t of asked for more. As I continue my friendship with my old hippie friend as I call her… I will hug her so tightly & remain a strong tree for her to lean on as we celebrate Austin’s life!

    • Lost Croat Outburst

      The decedent was out in the elements for about a year when found. Very tragic and sad. I am not convinced that blaming the government for every tragedy is appropriate. Not in this case.

      • It was at the longest 13 days. He was last known to be alive on Dec 13, 2016 and found Dec 26, 2016. But he was likely in the water and from what I’ve read this causes a great deal of decomposition.

      • The article said his body was found 13 days after he last spoke with his mom. He wasn’t in the elements for a year….

      • Not out in elements a year. In the water around 10 days and then in the Coroners office approximately 10 months.

  • Drugs not only destroy the addict but the addict’s family as well.

    • And the society trying to cope. Dealing with drug addiction and homelessness for other reasons is so very much harder than most people believe. It is not that people won’t help but that, after keeping up with other needs, they do not have the resources left to do everything for the people who need everything done for them and who resist such help that is offered.

    • Yes it does. Alcohol was his addiction and nothing else.

  • It’s sad and haunting for me to see the picture of the bright-eyed, healthy young kid on the right and how it all turned out in the end. All the potential in the world, a future to look forward to, and this is how it ends. But strangely enough, he doesn’t look fully happy in his picture either.

    Mom did her best, it sounds. I wonder how and where things went sideways.
    There are no guarantees, life can be unfair on its face.
    Keep your kids and families warm, loved, safe and sound. That’s the only thing we can do, and we must do it well.

    • Very well spoken. Very complex. I sure don’t have the answers and so I just do what’s in front of me. I figure that’s why it’s I front of me.

  • So sadden for your loss and for the time it took for identification. My hope is DNA will be taken at birth and kept in a national data base. I feel that each state district should have their own DNA lab so these long delays won’t happen.

    • tired of all this

      Right (sarcasm) get a chip implanted at birth too. Big brother loves YOU

    • Persons rights to privicy is very important. More so now than ever before persons personal privicy is under attack everyday, in ways most people dont even know or understand. Even when people think they are protecting their privicy , say by removing location permissions from apps on their phone, and disableing geo tags or face id, there are other apps which store that data and routinely send that data off to companies and goverments. So even while one is under the impression that they are not allowing personal info to be stored or transmitted about them,it is. To me this is much worse, as persons are give a false sense of privicy. A DNA data base is just one step further. It could start out like you would want, but as with anything else it would soon be backdoored hacked etc. And that data could be used in very harmful ways. It isnt that people have things to hide it is the way that people take advantage of harmless ideas and weaponise them later on. I am not a tinfoil hat everyone is watching us type of person, i am just very aware of data and tracking collection that is going on today. Anyone that truely stays on top of software and networks knows. Back just a few years ago cell phones came with removeable storage, today they dont offer one. Because folks were able to run apps that would distort the tracking info sent to companies off of them. It was widely known that if you did not want your phone to spy on you , you needed to remove the battery, not just turn it off. Try finding a new phone today that has a removal battery. Snowden reviled that goverments could listen to people in their homes through samsung tvs. Really ? Knowledge is power, and i think we do not need to give anymore power to companies or goverments over our own selves. DNA is not just a way to id someone, it is infact excatly what makes you who you are, there are companies researching dna seeking viruses. Meaning that a viruse can be used to injure the only specife dna code and all others would not contract it. Think about that ? Genocide without armies ? Just create a targeted virus. If you rhink this is far fetched , look at what is happening with gene thepary for canser treatments . Please seriously think about the massive amouts of abuse and misuse data bases already have. And stop trying to take others rights away to make you desires , or wants easier for you to get.

      • I know that DNA may be obtained through a search warrant, by donating blood, and/or by signing away your rights to a medical facility; however, I am suspicious of companies (i.e. 23andMe), that require a saliva sample in order to trace a person’s genealogical origins. Your biological material yields a lot of information about your health, as well as health risk. Creating a designer biological weapon that targets certain individuals is not that far-fetched. Also, my concern is the possibility of cloning the sample, to later be placed at a crime scene in order to frame the person.

  • Vickie,I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m praying he gets home soon,so he can rest and be at home.God bless you and your family 🕊

  • Om mani padme hum, compassion for the disadvantaged in our society 💛💐

  • This tears my heart up and I didn’t even know the man or his family. Thank God she finally has closure. Her points are helpful and if we help her petition the powers that be into being, future families might be spared. Who do we send her petition to? The county & city mayors and BOS? The BOS are too busy being politically deviously correct, but maybe they need a distraction from their buttsides.
    I will focus on the solutions to distract from my painful disappointment and disgust that filled me while reading her plight.
    He was well loved and well liked both. Not many people can claim that title. My deepest condolences to you and to all who loved him.

  • This is tragic and I am sorry for the loss of a loved son.
    There is a solution to this. Parents of the homeless and adult children of older homeless people should welcome their family back into their homes and hearts. Help them recover from what ever addiction they may have. Give them all the love you claim you have for them before they meet a tragic end. Once they have passed on there is no amount of sorrow or tears that will bring them back.

    Why should one blame everyone else for the loss of their parents or child? If they are loved so much, as one would claim, come and get them and bring them into your home before it is too late.

    This would solve several issues. The person would be in a warm and loving environment. There would be NO homeless on our streets. Law enforcement could start doing the job we need them to be doing. The jails would not be filled to over capacity.

    And I am sure you could add to the list of all the positive outcomes.

    • Maybe that’s something neither party wanted. Maybe a drug addict can’t be cured by any amount of love until and unless they are ready. Maybe living together is too dangerous.

      Lots of people like to saddle others with blame for not finding a quick solution. But if there were easy solutions, they would already be in place.

      • I’m so committed to communication in this area that even with staggering grief I must continue to remind as previously stated the answers are present inside empathy comassion non judgement and unconditional love. And that my friend does not include “I will help/love you IF/WHEN you.

    • May God Bless and keep you and your family in his loving arms.

      No words can express my sympathy for you, as a mother of 3 my heart bleeds for your loss.

    • Just because you want someone to get help or change doesnt make them want to. Vicki loved her son tremendously and asked him multiple times to come home. He had chosen a vagabond lifestyle and it seems like for a long time it wasnt hurting anyone, as he would check in with his mom regularly. That is how she knew something was wrong. Because her love for him was so unconditional. If it werent for mother’s instinct, she may not have had any idea something had happened to Austin. She started searching the best she could from Oklahoma only a few weeks after the last time she spoke to him, and only a week or two after he passed away. Love isnt defined by opening your home and trying to make someone walk the path that you think is best. Its about loving someone as they are and being there for them no matter what, even if it means having to reach across the country to strangers and search and ultimately track down your child who has been sitting in a box unidentified for a year, and finally sign for your son when someone once again delivers him and places him into your arms. Nice work on the story Kym, and Vicki, for being Austin’s voice so that his death wasnt in vain.

    • That would help

    • Addressed to Be Responsible… I have to wonder what world you live in?… You can’t force someone to accept help. There are so many homeless people who don’t want to go home to family! (They feel happier on the street.) It doesn’t matter how much their family loves them or wants them home so they can help them….if a person isn’t ready for help/just doesn’t want it, nothing can be done. A person has to want help and want to get better!! Vickie did the best she could with the circumstances…she always spoke with him when he called and her love for Austin comes through clearly in the article. The dedication and perseverance she has shown in searching for her son is beyond measure! I sure hope you never have to go through losing someone you love to the streets!

      Vickie, I am so very sorry that your son has passed away!! I cannot even imagine the pain you’ve been through and continue to go through! Please know that I applaud you for your love and efforts on behalf of your son, Austin! God bless you!

    • Let me educate you – here as eloquently as I can!! While I am so pissed at your statement!! We asked Austin to come home, begged him to come home… no questions asked!! He always had a home without judgement or ridicule of his known addictions !! – alas he chose the road he traveled… as a free spirit!!! If we had known the future … we would of kidbapped him and brought him home. However I am a believer… when it’s your time?? It’s your time!! Don’t pass judgement on a woman you don’t even know !! Believe me when I say this… Vicki would of moved mountains for her son Austin before she would allow him to leave this earth! I will stand solid and defend Vicki as I know – Austin never once had to be homeless. It was a choice !! Of his own!! His room is still intact !! Waiting for him to come home !!
      This right here shows a lot of people… not all is seen unless your 5 houses down ! @angered by your statement !🤔🤔

    • I really wish it was that simple. It may be in yours and my best interest to educate yourself about this challenge in our society. ❤️

  • Dan Squier KINS News Radio

    Kym your work on this story has been outstanding, simply excellent. Well done. Pass along some love to Vicki from us at the news desk.

  • Thank you Kym Kemp for being so well versed. You are appreciated more than you know.
    With great respect to you…
    a Fan 🙂

  • Heartbreaking story… I am so very sorry for this mother’s suffering and loss. I was homeless and addicted as was my now adult child recently. My son almost lost me to depression and addiction and I almost lost him to his addiction. No amount of love or help could steer us off the paths we chose;( we had to want to change. It took him 6 months in county, 2 felony drug possession charges, and 6 months in rehab, as well as 6 years felony probation to quit meth. If he had been charged with meth possession in California , he would probably have gotten a misdemeanor and been dead by 21. We celebrated his sober 21st birthday earlier this year. As much as I don’t like the idea of throwing drug addicts in jail, sometimes that is the only way they are forced into sobriety . Vicki, my heart goes out to you and I hope your heart can now heal . Much love to you from Georgia.💜Stay strong and carry on.

  • I knew Austin. Rest in peace my old friend. Be free.
    I’m so, so sorry, mama. 🙁

  • I remember a friend if mine named “Ricky” a female & helped with the birth of my son Matthew in 1986 at Garberville hospital,she got a hold of me and told me how upset she was at that time, a year ago that her friend jumped-pushed off the Sanoma Bridge.
    Now I understand her grief. It was Austin. She is homeless so keeping in touch is scarce.
    I’m so sorry for your loss Vicki.
    Austin was so loved there.
    You are not alone.
    God speed

    • What? Jumped pushed? What? Please! Call law enforcement or try to contact her or me or Kym!! Please we need to know. Please!

    • Janice, was he pushed or did he jump? Those are two different scenarios. Do you know Ricky’s full name or where she hangs around? My number is 707-572-4366. Anyone who knows what happened to Austin, who, what, where, when, why, or how, call me. You can even be anonymous. There is a $100 cash reward for anyone who can give us answers. Thanks.

    • Vicki is a dear friend, please, if you have any information, please reach out and share.

  • Vickie I’m so sorry for your huge loss. I can’t even imagine what you are going through. This is truly heartbreaking. Hugs

      • Vickie~your tragedy has touched a lot of hearts. Your well-spoken concerns need to be taken seriously and lead to change in the way evidence is handled. It is my hope and prayer that we can perhaps get legislation passed (perhaps Cade’s law)…. addressing how DNA is handled, better funding and communication. LIfestyle choices don’t just affect the person choosing it. You are in my heart and prayers as you wait for you beloved son’s remains. Let’s not make this the end to his story. Let us not waste this lesson in how things can be done better. Never give up.

  • I lost my son in an accident where he was flung into a river. Over a year later the coroner from another city called and said one of my boy’s bones was found a year ago and through dna tests it was proven to be my son. His father was deceased and nobody asked for my DNA, so how can they tell me after a year of not being able to find any of my son’s remains that this small bone was his. My heart goes out to you mom, my oldest son chooses that lifestyle and I’ve tried everything to bring him home, but I feel your pain and I truly understand your frustration… Hugs for you mom

  • Sad story. I wonder what brought him to this area….

  • Oh my goodness Aussie philossie!!! <3
    My hearts is so sad, much love to you Momma I didnt know him long, and I havent seen him for many years but despite his troubles your son had a heart of gold.

    • All my love for reaching out to me. I will have a memorial service January 6th. Please write a story of your knowing him so that I can read at that time I’m on Facebook and Messenger
      Vicki Anderson
      207 Asbill Ave
      Yukon, OK. 73099
      I would appreciate anything you want to share GUEST

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