On April 4, 2020, the remains of a partially skeletonized human body were discovered in an extremely remote, wooded area off a US Forest Service Road, 13 miles east of Sweet Home in Linn County, Oregon. Law enforcement responded and recovered the almost-complete skeleton of a female individual and several distinct articles of clothing associated with the remains. No identification for the deceased was found within these items.
An examination of the body determined that the decedent was most likely a Caucasian female between 30 and 50 years of age at the time of death. The Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office uploaded the case into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System – NamUs and submitted a bone sample to Bode Technology for processing. The resulting DNA profile was uploaded into the CODIS database at that time. Unfortunately, no genetic associations to missing persons or family reference standards in the CODIS database were found. The DNA profile continued to be searched against the national database, with no resolutions.
Based on the physical characteristics of the deceased, a forensic illustration was created by the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office Forensic Imaging Unit. The re-approximation of the woman’s face was used in press releases, on unidentified person websites, and as the main profile picture for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System-Namus website.
Despite the efforts of the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, no active missing person case was discovered that matched the physical characteristics of the deceased female, and no leads had produced results. The deceased was in danger of becoming another “cold” unidentified remains case, so the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office decided to utilize grant funding provided by the National Institute of Justice/Bureau of Justice Assistance to perform innovative DNA techniques in hope that Investigative Genetic Genealogy may provide answers. A sample from the deceased’s tooth was sent to DNA Labs International, and a different type of DNA profile was produced for DNA Phenotyping and Investigative Genetic Genealogy provided by Parabon NanoLabs (“Parabon”).
Parabon produced a Snapshot® Advanced Phenotype report that provided a wealth of information about additional physical features of the unknown female. DNA Phenotyping is a technology that analyzes an SNP DNA profile and predicts eye color, hair color, skin color, freckling, the shape of the face, and the biogeographic ancestry of the DNA contributor. In this case, Parabon predicted the deceased individual was of both Northern European and African descent, with fair skin, green or hazel eyes, light brown hair, and likely “some” freckling of the skin during life. This information, along with the image that accompanied the report, was immediately uploaded onto the NamUs website to be used for missing-person comparison purposes.
Investigative genetic genealogy (IGG) is a lead generation tool that is used to identify human remains by tying DNA from those remains to a family with a missing person. After potential family members of the deceased are discovered, identification is ultimately accomplished using comparative DNA analysis, which measures the amount of DNA that is shared between two people, combined with traditional genealogy research using historical records to infer relationships between individuals.
The investigative genetic genealogy (IGG) report authored by Parabon NanoLabs and released in August 2022 immediately provided the strongest investigative lead yet. The report suggested that the decedent was a woman reported named Grace Lorna Narvaez-Weaver, missing in Washington state in 2019. The IGG report also provided a picture of Grace from 2008, which looked strikingly like both the 2-D re-approximation and the phenotypic reconstruction produced by Parabon.
In September 2022, Linn County Sheriff’s Office detectives approached the family with the possibility that the body at Oregon’s state medical examiner’s facility could be Grace Narvaez-Weaver. A family member of Grace’s provided an oral swab sample to be compared to the DNA of the unknown female.
The Kinship Inference report authored by Parabon NanoLabs in January 2023 was definitive, as the relative exhibited a significant amount of shared DNA with the deceased woman. The amount of DNA shared was consistent with a parent/child relationship.
“Grace’s case is an excellent example of how advanced technologies like investigative genetic genealogy (IGG) and phenotyping can be used to help resolve a case before it goes cold. The Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office knows the power of IGG and phenotyping and recognized these techniques would be effective in this active investigation. They didn’t want Grace’s case to go cold, and it didn’t. My colleagues and I are honored to have been able to help give Grace back her identity.”- CeCe Moore, Parabon’s Chief Genetic Genealogist
The Linn County Sheriff’s Office has notified the next-of-kin, and the release of Grace Narvaez-Weaver’s remains is pending. The investigation into the death of Grace Narvaez-Weaver is ongoing.
This case represents how successful private/public partnerships can be when agencies are trying to resolve complex unidentified remains cases. This case also demonstrates the importance and relevance of IGG and how its use can provide law enforcement agencies and families with answers before decedents become “cold cases”.
Very specific information regarding the deceased’s clothing and physical features was provided early in the investigation to the public but did not lead to a resolution. The upload of the forensic DNA profile into the national DNA database was unsuccessful in finding a “match” to the decedent. Only the use of DNA phenotyping and IGG through Parabon NanoLabs has allowed the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office to offer investigative leads to law enforcement partners, which lead to resolutions and the answers families need.
“The Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office is honored to work with the dedicated professionals at the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office Forensic Imaging Unit, DNA Labs International, and Parabon NanoLabs. Collaboration and dedication were key to finding a resolution to this case. We hope that the return of Grace to her family provides a level of peace now that her whereabouts are no longer a mystery.”- Dr. Nici Vance, State Forensic Anthropologist, and Human Identification Program Coordinator.