GOLD BAR — A piece of a skull found last year on a bank of the Skykomish River belonged to a Gold Bar man who had been missing since March 2017.
Investigators have long suspected the waterlogged cranial bone, about the size of a palm, could have come from Daniel Cleveland, 35. This week his family learned the answer had been confirmed through DNA, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office announced.
Cleveland had last been seen at a campground west of Index, just upstream from the sandbar where the piece of skull came to a rest 1½ years later. He is presumed dead.
Cleveland lived with mental illness. Court records show he spent much of the last three years of his life behind bars for nonviolent crimes. A mugshot shows he’d been in jail in the week before he vanished, according to the missing person database NamUs.
At the time, public bulletins noted Cleveland “may be suicidal,” but exactly how and why he ended up in the river is still unanswered. He did not own a car or cell phone. He’d been wearing a dark coat and jeans.
Relatives searched the river valley in spring 2017, but found no trace of Cleveland.
A fisherman spotted the bone on the riverbank Dec. 10, at a bend in the Sky, a half-mile downstream from Zeke’s Drive In. Authorities confirmed it was human. They had little other evidence to go on. No clothes or other remains were ever found.
For the past eight months, among investigators, the unidentified man has gone by the nickname of Big Bend John Doe.
Around last Christmas, experts compared the bone to Cleveland’s facial X-rays. The two seemed consistent, but they were not a definitive match.
In May, a private lab based in Oklahoma extracted DNA. An Oregon genealogist who has worked with Snohomish County investigators in the past, Deb Stone, uploaded the genetic profile to ancestry site GEDMatch, where people can search for long-lost relatives.
She began piecing together the unidentified man’s family tree based on distant relatives. But in the middle of her research, GEDMatch changed its policy and restricted police access to users’ data on the site by default, unless users ticked a box to say they were OK with police seeing their DNA.
Overnight the number of DNA profiles she could use for comparison dropped from 1.2 million to zero. Stone turned to family trees on other sites. She ended up tracking down the unidentified man’s third cousin twice removed on the father’s side, then a half-first cousin on his mother’s side.
With that supporting evidence, the medical examiner’s office asked Cleveland’s parents to take DNA tests.
The results confirmed the bone came from Cleveland’s skull. Investigators notified the family earlier this week.
Over the past two years, friends and family kept posting on Cleveland’s Facebook page, asking him to come home if he was alive, and telling him how much they missed him.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.