Josephine County Death Investigation From 1959 Solved Using Modern Techniques

In June, 1986, the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office responded to the Quartz Creek area regarding human skeletal remains being located on a homeowner’s property. The homeowner was in the process of putting in a new septic system when the owner discovered the remains in the ground approximately 4 feet deep and notified law enforcement. The homeowner had only owned the property for approximately 10 years.

With the remains, other items were located within the gravesite such as, fabric believed to be from a dress, a worn set of dentures and two rubber implements, believed to be from a walker or crutches. 

At that time, law enforcement was unable to identify the decedent and forwarded the remains to the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office for further examination and DNA processing. It was believed based on the condition of the remains that the decedent may have been in the ground for approximately 15 to 25 years.

Between 1986 and 2016, the investigation into the identification of the remains was attempted multiple times by detectives and forensic examiners. No leads were ever discovered to help with the identification.

Ultimately, due to the poor condition of the remains, in 2018 the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office was awarded a grant allowing the office to send the remains to Parabon NanoLabs for further DNA and genetic genealogy processing. With Parabon NanoLabs assistance, it was discovered that the remains may be of a missing person from 1959 out of the Rogue River area named, Elsie Baker, who went missing under suspicious circumstances. 

The circumstances were deemed suspicious after law enforcement learned that family and friends of Elsie Baker had not heard from her for a period of time. Law enforcement responded to Elsie Baker’s home and found her wheelchair but no sign of her.

An investigation between 1959 and 1960 was started and numerous individuals were interviewed. It was discovered that Elsie Baker was being treated for cancer and would have needed assistance to leave her home as she was mainly wheelchair bound. It was also discovered that approximately $10,000 was missing from the home. Unfortunately, law enforcement was unable to come up with any leads regarding the missing person case.

In 2022, Parabon NanoLabs suggested that through combining genetic genealogy, DNA Phenotyping and kinship analysis, if the remains were Elsie Baker, she may have a living grandson who was believed to be in the Utah area. If this were true, the grandson would be the closest genetic match and would possibly solve the missing person case, identifying the remains. 

Josephine County Detectives contacted the grandson and explained the case and circumstances leading law enforcement to contact him. With consent from the grandson and assistance from Emery County Sheriff’s Office, Utah, the grandson provided an oral DNA swab sample for comparison which was submitted for review.

In early January, 2023, Parabon NanoLabs and the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office were able to positively identify the decedent as Elsie Baker based on the matching DNA from the grandson.

Source: JoCo SO