Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner’s Office Teams with Othram to Identify 2008 Homicide Victim

The remains of a murdered woman discovered in May 2008 in Churchill County have been identified as 70-year-old Betty Lou Japel.

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Published February 15 by Michael Vogen
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In March 2008, the remains of an unidentified individual were discovered in Churchill County, Nevada. A passerby discovered skeletal fragments partially covered with dirt and gravel in a remote area near US highway 95 near mile marker 55. The Churchill County Sheriff’s Office responded and conducted a death investigation. The shallow dirt grave was excavated and numerous skeletal fragments, along with an orange halter top, were discovered.

The individual’s remains was transported to the Washoe County Medical Examiner’s Office where a complete autopsy was performed by a county forensic pathologist. It was determined that the remains were that of an adult female. The woman’s cause of death was determined to be multiple gunshot wounds, and the manner of death was homicide. Despite investigators attempts to identify the woman, her identity remained a mystery. Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP8110.

In 2023, the Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner’s Office submitted forensic evidence to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram scientists successfully developed a DNA extract that was used in Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unidentified homicide victim. Othram's in-house forensic genetic genealogy team used the profile in a genetic genealogy search to develop investigative leads that were returned to the Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner’s Office.

Using these new leads, the Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner’s Office conducted a follow-up investigation, leading to a potential relative who provided a DNA sample for direct comparison. Othram used KinSNP® to compare the two DNA samples, making a positive identification. The woman is now identified as Betty Lou Japel. Japel was 70 years old at the time of her death. Betty Lou Japel was last heard from in 2006 after going missing while traveling with her partner, Kenneth Miller. In June 2007, Miller's body was found in a grave near the site of where their abandoned motor home was located in Oregon. Betty Lou Japel was never heard from or seen again. Ms. Japel’s next of kin has been notified and is now able to claim her remains.

She and her boyfriend of 30 years were RVers who befriended someone along the way. Their friend, a felon, got into a shootout with police and shortly after, the boyfriend's body was found near an RV park where they'd camped, but there was no sign of the woman (Betty Lou). After the shootout, the friend committed suicide and was found in the desert near Mexico. It's believed (assumed?) that the friend killed the man and woman.

Washoe County Chief Medical Examiner and Coroner Dr. Laura D. Knight commented that “This is the second unidentified person from a cold case that we have been able to identify due to this partnership and the generosity of members of the public. I am pleased we were able to provide Ms. Japel’s family with the ability to claim her remains and find some degree of closure.” In November 2023, the identification of Lorena Gayle Mosley was announced with Othram's casework costs contributed by philanthropists as well.

Casework costs associated with Othram's testing and the investigative research required to identify Ms. Japel was contributed by Texas based author and journalist Joe Pappalardo. We are very grateful for Joe's support.

Help fund another case Your contributions pay for lab supplies and research tools

Michael Vogen

Michael Vogen

Director of Case Management

2829 Technology Forest Blvd Suite 100, The Woodlands, Texas 77381

Michael works with law enforcement agencies throughout the United States and Canada on “unsolvable“ cases that can benefit from advanced DNA testing methods. He helps these agencies use cutting edge DNA sequencing and new forensic techniques to develop investigative leads for their cases.

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About Othram Inc.

Othram is the world’s first private DNA laboratory built specifically to apply the power of modern parallel sequencing to forensic evidence. Othram’s scientists are experts at ... Read morerecovery, enrichment, and analysis of human DNA from trace quantities of degraded or contaminated materials. Founded in 2018, and located in The Woodlands, Texas, our team works with academic researchers, forensic scientists, medical examiners, and law enforcement agencies to achieve results when other approaches have failed. Follow Othram on Twitter @OthramTech or visit Othram.com to learn how we can help you with your case. With dnasolves.com anyone can make a difference and help solve the next cold case.