VANCOUVER, Washington – Advances in DNA technology and old-fashioned detective work led to the identification of a woman whose badly decomposed body was found in a field at Hazel Dell in 2004.
The Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office announced on Friday that the woman had been identified as Donna Lee Swindell, 57. His family was informed last month by Randon Walker, who had worked as a homicide detective with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office when the body was discovered and has since joined the medical examiner’s office as an investigator into the cases. death.
“It was gratifying and sad,” Walker said in the statement. “Sad that it’s been so long.”
The case began on November 6, 2004, when two young people discovered the body of a middle-aged woman in a wooded and brushy area of land near the Goodwill store on Northeast 78th Street.
Investigators said the body was fully clothed but had been at the scene for several weeks, if not months. An autopsy was performed, but the cause or mode of death could not be determined.
As a homicide detective, Walker worked on the case but was blocked by the technology of the day and a trail that had cooled. He could only determine the woman’s height, race, and approximate age. The DNA samples taken from the remains did not match any samples in an FBI database.
Advances in DNA technology and forensic anthropology gave Walker another chance to handle the case after joining the medical examiner’s office in 2018. He was given the cold case entrusted to him. a year ago and immediately admitted it from his past investigation, according to a statement from the medical examiner. Office.
The office submitted a DNA sample of the remains to a DNA technology company in Virginia that also provides forensic genealogy services. A staff member was able to use this material to predict the woman’s ancestry and compare it to individuals in online genealogical databases.
Research has revealed an ancestral link with two brothers and a long list of people who could be the woman’s parents. Walker has spent months crossing hundreds of names off the list while investigating the ongoing cases.
“Whenever I had a moment, whenever I had a lead I would try to reunite this woman with her family,” Walker said.
Using government search engines, public ancestry websites, marriage licenses, and death certificates, Walker limited his search to Swindell. He found that his driver’s license had not been renewed in November 2004 and that all activities related to his social security account had ceased a few months before the body was found.
He searched for possible family members in Lane County, Oregon, with the help of Dr. Jeanne McLaughlin, a professor at the University of Oregon, who collected a DNA sample from a member. family for comparison.
On November 24, Walker received confirmation that the unidentified woman discovered 17 years ago was Donna Lee Swindell and was able to reunite the woman with her family.
“Everyone deserves the human dignity of being treated and sent back to their families,” he said.