Kathy Taylor, a forensic anthropologist with the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, left, detective Jim Scharf of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, center, and mental health professional Chuck Wright look over bones on a table Nov. 13 at the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Kathy Taylor, a forensic anthropologist with the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, left, detective Jim Scharf of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, center, and mental health professional Chuck Wright look over bones on a table Nov. 13 at the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Missing man’s name literally found in grave of 1978 cold case

Officially, the Lynnwood case is unsolved. Detectives hope to find relatives of Horace Prescott Jr.

LYNNWOOD — Tiny black letters run along the buttonholes inside the shirt, in a blank space, between faded cartoonish flowers.

Forty years ago, an unidentified man’s clothes and bones were buried at Cypress Lawn in Everett. In October, the grave was exhumed, with the hope that it held clues to the man’s past.

Cold case investigators dug up a name, printed on the shirt.

“Prescott Horace.”

Officially, the man is still unidentified, without DNA or dental proof of who he was. But the new discovery reinforces a solid lead.

Old records from the case have been lost or destroyed. The only police reports date from January 1978, when a dog found a man’s skull and carried it to a yard across from what’s now a Fred Meyer. State archivists tried but couldn’t unearth police records from March and April 1978, when surveyors found more bones — ribs and vertebrae — off 164th Street SW near Lynnwood. Among the later findings were clothes and a blanket, according to articles in The Daily Herald.

Snohomish County sheriff’s detective Jim Scharf doubts that deputies of that era saw the name in the shirt. If they did, they could’ve made the connection to missing Marine veteran Horace Jack “Dany” Prescott Jr., who was last seen alive in Seattle on Nov. 15, 1976.

At the time, Prescott was in his late 40s.

Maybe the name was printed to keep laundry sorted in group housing. Prescott, who joined the Marines in the last days of World War II, reportedly lived with mental health problems. He tended to wander.

Maybe the name was dismissed as a brand, like Calvin Klein.

Today, with a gap in the records, we don’t know.

He’s among the oldest of 13 nameless bodies that county detectives hope to identify. If investigators can find Prescott’s relatives, samples of their DNA could help to solve the case and bring long-awaited answers to a missing man’s family.

Yearbook photos show Horace Prescott Jr. as a sophomore, junior and senior at Ballard High School. (Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office)

Yearbook photos show Horace Prescott Jr. as a sophomore, junior and senior at Ballard High School. (Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office)

A private’s life

We may never know how this man ended up dead in what was then a rural, wooded neighborhood.

The state of his skull suggested he was at least 40, and he’d been dead roughly six months to a year.

Prescott was last seen 13½ months before a dog made the first find, bringing home a cranium and five smooth animal bones. Only the skull was human. It was not buried. Deer bones went into the man’s grave, along with the ribs, back bones, clothes and potential evidence from the later finds.

Before the plot was dug up, Prescott’s name had been handwritten in a microfiche record at the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office, in parentheses, with no explanation, on a page where he’s called John Doe 1-78. It was classified as an apparent natural death, with little evidence to say otherwise.

Cold case investigator Jane Jorgensen with the medical examiner’s office rediscovered the skull in late 2016, when she did an inventory of unsolved cases. It hadn’t been on the radar at the sheriff’s office in ages.

This fall Jorgensen went looking for Prescott’s family on Ancestry.com, where anyone can search for long-lost relatives.

Records show Prescott Sr. owned a house near Green Lake, three miles east of Ballard High School. The father was an auto mechanic, according to a U.S. Census spreadsheet from April 1940. The Prescott kids seemed to go by nicknames. Dany, 12, is the only son listed for Horace Prescott. Yearbooks suggest no one named Horace Prescott Jr. attended Ballard High in the ’40s, but there is a Dany Prescott in photos. Dany’s age aligns with a birth date for the younger Horace.

Prescott Jr. used his legal name on a military fingerprint card June 12, 1945. His first actual service date was Aug. 17, 1945, two days after Japan announced its unofficial surrender. Pvt. Prescott underwent dental work weeks later. Yellowing military charts show his fillings.

Those records were reviewed Oct. 30 by Dr. Gary Bell, a forensic dental expert. (His skills gave a name to another skull in Snohomish County earlier this year, based only on dental records.)

What he saw in Prescott’s file didn’t contradict the map of the teeth in the skull. But three decades passed between WWII and the day the cranium was found in January 1978. That’s a lot of time to get cavities and fillings, and for teeth to get worn down, pulled or knocked out. Bell couldn’t say, with absolute certainty, that it was Prescott.

A name stenciled on the inside of a shirt may help to solve a 40-year-old cold case from the Lynnwood area. Bones that were found near the shirt were examined Nov. 13 at the Snohomish County Medical Examiner. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

A name stenciled on the inside of a shirt may help to solve a 40-year-old cold case from the Lynnwood area. Bones that were found near the shirt were examined Nov. 13 at the Snohomish County Medical Examiner. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

A fresh look

X-rays tend to deteriorate in a few years.

Chasing down dental records from the ’70s could be impossible.

So a family DNA match seems like the best shot to prove or disprove this man’s identity. A genetic sample from the skull was submitted to a national database in September. In the meantime, Jorgensen built a Prescott family tree. The missing man’s mother, father and lone sibling had died.

A living relative hasn’t been found.

This month at the medical examiner’s office, state forensic anthropologist Kathy Taylor flipped through reports with Jorgensen, detective Scharf, and two longtime volunteers on the cold case team: retired Superior Court judge Ken Cowsert and retired probation supervisor Chuck Wright.

They talked about the teeth, the skull and the theories centering on Prescott. They scrutinized the weathered bones on a metal table, with the deer bones in one corner.

Taylor had examined the skull in 2009. Back then she’d concluded the man was most likely Caucasian, with healing head injuries.

Cold case investigator Jane Jorgensen, left, retired judge and prosecutor Ken Cowsert, center, and mental health professional Chuck Wright look over remnants of clothing Nov. 13, at the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Cold case investigator Jane Jorgensen, left, retired judge and prosecutor Ken Cowsert, center, and mental health professional Chuck Wright look over remnants of clothing Nov. 13, at the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

This month she saw no obvious trauma in the other remains. There were no redundant bones, suggesting they all came from one man. Based on a femur, he probably stood around Prescott’s height, 5-feet-9. A pair of dark blue dress pants — with a faint checkered pattern, pure 1970s fashion — hung on a rack beside the off-white shirt.

Taylor asked to have the bones shipped to King County, so she could study them at her office. She advised investigators to overlay Prescott’s portrait on a photo of the skull. If they’re doppelgangers, it’s not proof, but it’s one more piece of evidence pointing to a match.

Two days later, forensic artist Natalie Murry shared a YouTube video, where she explained how she reconstructs faces based on unidentified skulls. She pulled up Prescott’s yearbook photos, side-by-side with a drawing she’d finished in September.

Murry stressed how drawings are not conclusive evidence. This was only a possibility. But it sure looked like Dany.

“The nose and the mouth and the chin are pretty darn close,” she said. “I think it really could be him.”

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

Tips

Tips can be directed to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office at 425-339-3454.

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