Forensic genealogy, the process of comparing DNA against a national database, has been fine-tuned over recent years. In turn, decades old murders, un-identified Jane and John Doe’s and un-named killers have been brought to light.
In Snohomish County a slew of cold cases are becoming solved, often after decades of unanswered questions and dead-ends. Here is a roundup of those stories:
Authorities identified a North Dakota man and a Seattle medical worker as the victims in two Snohomish County cold cases dating back to 1977 and 1981.
Alice Lou Williams was reported missing in 1981 and later found in 2009. Williams disappeared under suspicious circumstances while staying at a cabin near Lake Loma, northwest of Marysville. Williams’ skull was found off Beckler Road north of Skykomish in 2009, but was unidentified until 2022.
Blaine Has Tricks, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe from Bismarck, North Dakota, went missing in 1977. Later in 1977, his remains were unearthed in Marysville, only for him to remain a John Doe for decades.
Each former doe’s remains were matched accordingly thanks to forensic genealogy.
In 1987, Canadian couple Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg made a trip from Victoria to Seattle. The couple went unheard from for several days before each of their bodies were discovered, one in Monroe and the other in Skagit County.
Semen stains recovered from two of the crime scenes had long been kept in storage. Years later, cold case detectives at Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office identified William Talbott II, a SeaTac trucker, as the prime suspect.
Bothell teenager Melissa Lee’s murder had gone cold for nearly three decades until breakthroughs in forensic genealogy led to the arrest of Alan Edward Dean in 2020.
Lee and Dean had met on an anonymous phone line, according to court papers. Her mother came home to a house in shambles that night in April 1993. Soon after, a passersby found Lee’s body 50-feet below the Edgewater Creek Bridge on Mukilteo Boulevard.
Decades later, a used cigarette butt linked Dean to the killing of Lee.
Ronald David Chambers, a Vietnam War veteran from Rome, Georgia, vanished in 1978.
Four decades later, Snohomish County investigators determined through DNA that Chambers’ body actually had been found in 1980 in a patch of woods east of Stanwood and over 60 miles north of SeaTac. Those unidentified bones had been known to investigators as John Doe No. 3, or the Stanwood Bryant Doe.
On Aug. 3, 1980, a man found the human skull on his property at a bend in Pilchuck Creek. His neighbor’s dog had also come home with bones.
Over two days, the deputy coroner combed a shallow grave on the wooded property with the help of sheriff’s deputies, finding pieces of a man’s rib cage, vertebrae, arm bones, pieces of leg bones, a mandible with “exceptional dental work” — but no clothing, jewelry or a hint of the man’s identity.
In 2022, Chambers was identified as those remains.
Steven Lee Knox’s sister cannot pinpoint the date her brother went missing, but she knows it was around the time Mount St. Helens erupted into a plume of ashes. That was May 18, 1980.
Hardly a month later, boaters found an unknown man’s body in the Snohomish River. At the time it was considered an apparent drowning.
She was 400 miles from home when she called her mother for the last time. She was still a girl, just barely, at 17½.
High school classmates knew her as Lisa before she ran away from Roseburg, Oregon, in the summer 1977. On the phone from Everett, she asked her mom to send money. Her parents pleaded with her to come home, and Lisa said she’d think about it. They sent a check to a branch of Seafirst Bank. Lisa never picked it up.
For the next 43 years, her identity was lost, obliterated by a killer who told police he didn’t bother to get her name.
Twice as long as she was alive, Snohomish County investigators knew her as Jane Doe, or Precious Jane Doe.
Finally in 2020 investigators working with a pro bono team of 16 genealogists unearthed her name — Lisa Roberts.
Her killer, David Marvin Roth, picked up a tall, tan, pretty hitchhiker on Aug. 9, 1977. Later that month, blackberry pickers discovered the young woman’s body in brambles off Emander Road.
In 1972, Jody Loomis was found dead with an apparent gunshot wound to the head in Bothell. An autopsy suggested the killer fired a .22-caliber round at a downward angle and left Loomis to die north of Penny Creek Road, now known as Mill Creek Road. Sheriff’s detectives believed she had been raped.
Terrence Miller was linked to the crime through DNA evidence found on the victim’s boot. Miller was found guilty in 2020, but before serving time he died by apparent suicide.
Rodney Peter Johnson was reported missing in 1994. He was about 25 years old, working at a Chinese restaurant in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, living with a cousin and an aunt along NW 60th Street.
Months later, on the afternoon of June 11, 1994, in an apparent coincidence of timing, two men tried to untangle a fishing line on the north shore of Lake Stickney. Among thick lily pads and murky water they found a man’s body, fully clothed, decomposed so badly his tissue had turned into a kind of soap, known as corpse wax, or adipocere. The process of underwater decay takes months, if not years.
An autopsy showed the man had been shot in the head. It was classified as homicide. He became known to investigators as the Lake Stickney John Doe
Twenty-six years passed before Snohomish County Sheriff’s office identified the body as Johnson’s through DNA.