EVERETT — As summer turned to fall in 1977, a Marysville bulldozer operator unearthed a mystery.
A man’s body surfaced as the dozer’s blade pushed mud over the top of garbage at a landfill north of Everett.
Detectives speculated that the body came in on a barge that was used to haul g
arbage from Seattle to the landfill the Tulalip Indian Tribes then operated off Highway 529. The landfill was home to trash collected from back-alley dumpsters outside Seattle-area businesses.
Snohomish County sheriff’s detectives searched missing persons reports and checked in with Seattle p
The body was badly damaged. A pathologist couldn’t determine the cause of death. The detectives called the death a homicide. They called the victim John Doe 1977 and buried him at a Marysville cemetery three weeks later.
Snohomish County sheriff’s cold case detectives Thursday exhumed John Doe 1977. They hope to identify him through forensic testing that wasn’t available 34 years ago.
“We want to identify him and from there determine if it’s a homicide. We’d like to return the remains to his family,” sheriff’s cold case detective Jim Scharf said Friday.
Sheriff’s detectives got a judge to sign an order last week allowing the exhumation. They needed to dig up the man’s remains before a federal forensic grant runs out at the end of this month. The sheriff’s office has been using the $364,000 grant to pay for genetic tests on evidence from dozens of cold cases.
Genetic tests recently helped them identify a suspect in the 1995 homicide of Patti Berry and the disappearance of Tracey Brazzel that same year.
More testing is under way for several other unsolved homicides and missing persons cases, Scharf said.
John Doe 1977 was one of two unidentified people found that year. A month earlier, in August, a young woman was found in some blackberry bushes near Mariner High School. She’d been shot to death. Her killer was caught, but detectives haven’t been able to identify her. They call her their Precious Jane Doe 1977.
The remains of more than 100 people are waiting to be identified in Washington state, said Kathy Taylor, a forensic anthropologist with the King County Medical Examiner’s Office. There are thousands more across the nation.
“We know every one of them has family. It kills us not to know whom to call,” Taylor said.
The technology is there to identify people, though it’s going to take some help from their families.
Taylor and Scharf urge relatives of missing people to contact the police department that took the original report, especially if it was decades ago, to make sure the missing person is still listed with the National Crime Information Center. During his search for Precious Jane Doe 1977, Scharf learned that over the years many reports had been purged by mistake.
Families also should make sure that samples of their DNA are on file in state and national databases. “It’s as easy as a swab inside the cheek and it’s free,” Scharf said.
Scientists are able to compare those samples against genetic evidence taken from unidentified remains, even when little more than bones and teeth are left.
A mother who submitted a cheek swab in 2004 helped investigators earlier this month identify her daughter, whose remains were found early last year near Cle Elum. The young woman disappeared nearly 40 years ago. Investigators were able to extract DNA from her bones.
Taylor and scientists at the University of North Texas announced earlier this month that the remains belonged to Kerry May-Hardy. The 22-year-old woman was last seen in 1972 in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.
“There is hope,” Taylor said. “We need families to be vigilant.”
Taylor has been asked to examine the remains exhumed Thursday in an effort to better pinpoint the man’s age, race and height.
Reports from Sept. 8, 1977, indicate that the man was about 6 feet tall, 25 to 40 years old and about 160 pounds. He had black hair, and a blue sweater was found with the body. The last batch of garbage was dumped about six weeks before he was found in the landfill.
Investigators hope there is enough of his skull to reconstruct a likeness of his face. That could help in their effort to identify him.
On Thursday, detectives found a small red brick just under the grass that has grown over the man’s cemetery plot. “John Doe” is etched in the brick.
“I believe everybody has someone who loves them, someone who misses them,” Taylor said.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; email@example.com.
Tips for kin, friends of the missing
If someone you know is missing, authorities recommend:
•File a missing persons report with police.
Make sure the information is entered in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center and gets a case number.
After 30 days, make sure police have the person’s dental records.
Ask about having a sample of your DNA submitted to compare against unidentified remains. There is no cost, and your sample will not be used in any criminal database.
For more information, visit www.namus.gov.