Pierce County investigators unearth homicide victim, extract DNA

On March 18, 1989, a body was discovered by a hiker near the Carbon River. Little was known about the victim; he was buried in Sumner Cemetery under the name John Doe.

On Tuesday, March 11, nearly 25 years later, John Doe’s body was exhumed and an anthropologic investigation was launched. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and Medical Examiner’s Office are reexamining the case, with the hopes of using new technology to reveal answers to old questions.

The main purpose of exhuming the body is to extract a DNA sample, which could be used to establish John Doe’s true identity. His DNA will be entered into the publicly accessible NamUs, National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. NamUs provides a database for law enforcement and the families of missing persons to match DNA with unidentified victims.

In addition to DNA sampling, an artist may utilize facial reconstruction techniques to composite a sketch. It depends on the condition of the skull, Lead Medicolegal Investigator Melissa Baker said, but a picture could make it easier for investigators and loved ones to identify him.

“A lot of new information and tools are available now that weren’t in the past. We’re really hoping to get some leads on who this guy may be. Someone, somewhere knows who he is,” Baker said. “We’ll enter his DNA on our side of the system and hopefully we will get a hit from the other side.”

The body was found approximately three to six months postmortem and was clothed in a Singha Beer T-shirt underneath a long-sleeved cotton shirt, size small; blue jeans, size 29-inch waist; and blue and white striped tennis shoes, size 9 1/2. His age was roughly determined to be late teens or early 20s. The cause of death was a stab wound to the chest, Pierce County Sheriff’s Detective Ed Troyer said.

The sheriff’s department keeps all cases open until solved, regardless of how long the trail goes cold, Troyer said.

“We have a lot of cold cases. We are working on many of them all of the time,” he said. “This was the next step in that particular case.”

This portion of the investigation is expected to take several months, according to Baker, but will hopefully reveal a warm spot in the decades-old cold case.