Advances in DNA technology lead to identification of bodies found nearly 40 years ago

Everett, November 10, 2022—Today, the staff of the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office (SCMEO) announced the identification of “I-5 Stilly Doe” found in the Stilaguamish River more than 40 years ago as Othaniel Philip Ames.

It’s just an ordinary day for Kay Thomas to check her voicemail after get off work, but one message in particular piqued her interest. In a message from Deb Stone of the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office, a body said to have been found in the Stilaguamish River nearly 40 years ago has just been identified as her uncle Othaniel. Philip Ames.

Othaniel Ames
Othaniel Philip Ames. Photo courtesy of the Snohomish County Medical Examiner.

At first, Thomas dismissed it as a hoax, but her daughter, Bonnie Thomas, reminded her that the downstairs sewing room contained items believed to be “distant relatives”. When she opened a pocket Bible, she was shocked to see “Ottie” Ames dated 1980 on the inside cover — the year he disappeared.

“I heard the news, I said [to myself] Call her back,” Bonnie Thomas told the Lynwood Times. “I sat there listening to them sort out the case. “

Othaniel Ames
Kay Thomas, Othaniel Philip Ames’ niece, holds his Bible. Lynnwood Times | Keenan Briscoe.

Ames’ body was found by a fly fisherman on July 23, 1980 in the Stilla Guamish River near Arlington, but it wasn’t until the Snohomish County medical examiner recently acquired advanced DNA extraction techniques and genetic genealogy was confirmed. At the time Dr. Local pathologist Clayton Haberman found no signs of trauma or drowning, but there was severe coronary artery disease that led to the determination of an “apparently natural” cause of death. On the other hand, doctors could not identify the man even after going through a local dentist. Keith Leonard compares his dental chart to known missing persons.

Now, 28 years later, Detective Jim Scharf, along with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Team, along with retired Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Ken Couset, revisits the county’s unidentified In individual cases, they felt that improved DNA technology could help solve their problems. They are right.

In September 2018, the late Dr. Kathy Taylor, a former forensic anthropologist in Washington State, determined that the remains were estimated to be an adult male, possibly Caucasian, about 5 feet 9 inches tall, lined up with “I-5 Stilly Doe” – This is the nickname given to the corpse discovered in 1980.

From 2018 to 2021, Jane Jorgensen worked with SCMEO to rule out many potential missing persons using DNA comparisons and other measures.

After several tests, including more post-mortem dental charts, X-rays, and DNA extraction by Othram Inc. from parts of the deceased’s femur, Deb Stone identified one possible match: Othaniel Philip Ames. After contacting the Ames family and hearing that they had a relative missing at the same time the body was found, and having tested the DNA of Ames’ granddaughter to confirm, Stone determined that I-5 Stilly Doe was actually Ottie Ames.

In 1951, Ames moved to Washington from the Midwest with his wife and children. He works in a paper mill and owns a small dairy farm in Arlington with seven cows, all of which begin with the letter “J”. He likes to tell stories, he likes to play checkers, and he wears long underwear year-round, including in the summer. After he and his wife separated in the early 1960s, Ames built a cabin for himself on the hills at 18014 EB Hill Road. He was last known in early 1980, when he told his relatives he was going to visit family in California and Oregon. He is 82 years old.

Othaniel Ames
A collage of pictures by Othaniel Philip Ames. Lynnwood Times | Keenan Briscoe.

The Lynwood Times asked the Ames family if they knew what drove him to the river that day, whether he was a fisherman or a hiker, but they didn’t know. Many of them lost contact over the years.

“It’s always been a mystery, not knowing where he is, not knowing if he’s dead, and it’s all been made possible by this amazing technology, which is fascinating,” said Diane Ames, Othaniel’s granddaughter. “It’s family. closure,”

David Mittleman of Othram Inc. said many unresolved cases are just waiting for funding. Harnessing DNA technology requires complex budgeting and granting processes to secure the funds needed to get the job done. Although Othram Inc. has had sufficient funds to successfully identify 11 cases similar to Ames in recent years, they are still waiting for funds to resolve the remaining seven cases.

Othaniel Ames
Margaret Ames (center), stepdaughter of Othaniel Philip Ames, holds his ashes. She was with Douglas and Diane Ames. Lynnwood Times | Keenan Briscoe.

“It’s important to know that in the U.S. alone there are tens or even more than 100,000 people who have never been connected to a name, a family,” Mitman said. “We now have technology that works, we now have technologies that can be robust and routine technology to identify these people.”

Testing just one person could cost around $1,000 to $5,000, not including labor costs associated with the testing process, Mittleman added.

“It wasn’t an unusual event, it was almost an ordinary event,” Mittelman said. “It’s the result of bringing together smart people, hardworking investigators, and a little bit of funding, and it all happened. I hope this becomes a very routine technology in the next few years.”

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