41 years later, man who died in Snohomish River identified

Steven Lee Knox, 24, went missing in 1980. Genetic genealogy helped identify him last month.

A man was found dead in the Snohomish River in June 1980. Forty-one years later, cold case investigators used DNA and forensic genealogy to identify him as Steven Lee Knox, a U.S. Air Force veteran from Wisconsin who was living at the time in Everett.

A man was found dead in the Snohomish River in June 1980. Forty-one years later, cold case investigators used DNA and forensic genealogy to identify him as Steven Lee Knox, a U.S. Air Force veteran from Wisconsin who was living at the time in Everett.

EVERETT — Boaters found his body in the Snohomish River on June 20, 1980, near Dagmar’s Marina.

He had apparently drowned, and had been deceased for up to two months, a medical examiner at the time determined. His body’s deterioration made it impossible to use his fingerprints. He had no wallet. There was no way to identify him.

For 41 years, he was known only as John Doe, case No. 80-6-444.

Until now.

His name is Steven Lee Knox, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office announced on Thursday. He was 24 when he died.

The medical examiner’s office said it identified him with help of an investigative method called genetic genealogy — the same method that has been used to solve high-profile cold case homicides in Snohomish County and across the country.

Knox’s body was exhumed in 2018 so a DNA sample could be obtained. That was given to Othram, a forensic lab in Texas, which analyzed the sample and built a DNA profile. Othram completed the profile in June, and the medical examiner’s office then uploaded it to GEDmatch, a website where people can share genetic information.

There was a match. A family member of the John Doe also had uploaded their DNA, making it possible for the medical examiner’s office to build a family tree.

An investigator from the medical examiner’s office found multiple potential family members and contacted two of them. They confirmed they had a brother, Steven Lee Knox, who went missing in May 1980. His parents died before he was identified.

In mid-July, investigators confirmed the identification using dental records.

Knox grew up in Wisconsin and served in the U.S. Air Force. After his honorable discharge, he lived in Everett with family.

In 1980, he was buried at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Everett.

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