In June 1980, boaters on the Snohomish River discovered the body of an adult male floating in the waters near the old Weyerhaeuser Mill and Dagmar’s Marina. The Snohomish County Rescue Unit recovered the body from the river and released him to the Snohomish County Coroner’s Office. An autopsy was conducted the following Monday at which time Dr. Clayton Haberman determined that the unknown man’s cause of death was due to an apparent drowning. Given the unknown nature of how the man entered the water and drowned, Dr. Haberman left the manner of death undetermined. Unfortunately, no wallet or any other form of identification was found on the man and, due to the length of time that he was in the water and the condition of his remains, he was unable to be fingerprinted. After being unable to identify the man through traditional methods, the unknown man was buried at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Everett that same month. The dental report written by Dr. Leonard was kept for comparison to any future missing persons reports filed, however no new leads ever materialized, and the case very quickly went cold.
Beginning in 2008, Detective Jim Scharf with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Team and retired Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Ken Cowsert began reexamining old unsolved and unidentified homicide cases in Snohomish County. With the emergence of new, accessible technologies, the team was interested in exhuming these cases with the hopes of obtaining DNA samples that were not taken during the initial exams. The first step in new the investigation was getting the case entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, which was completed in 2016. Additionally, the case was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) in 2016. In January 2019, a small section of the left femur (thigh bone) was sent to the University of North Texas (UNT) Health Science Center, which processes DNA samples for CODIS.
In April 2019, Dr. Katherine Taylor, the Washington State Forensic Anthropologist, conducted an examination of the skeletal remains. Her report estimated that John Doe was 19-25 years old, was between 65.3 and 72.3 inches in height and noted that he had a healed fracture in his left foot. Forensic artist Natalie Murry also examined the decedent and provided several sketches of John Doe that were released to the public, later that year.
In 2021, a DNA extract, along with a section of the left femur, were sent to Othram Inc., a forensic laboratory in The Woodlands, TX for further DNA analysis. Othram used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing to build a complete genealogical profile from the degraded and bacterially contaminated DNA. Funding provided by a donor allowed for this third round of DNA testing at Othram. In June 2021, Othram, Inc. completed the DNA analysis and provided the SCMEO with a DNA file that was then uploaded to GEDmatch. Once uploaded, GEDmatch produced a match from a family member whose DNA had at some point been uploaded to GEDmatch in the course of their own genealogical research. An investigator with the SCMEO used the match to build a family tree and found several potential family members. Two of these family members were contacted and confirmed that they had a brother by the name of Steven Lee Knox who went missing at the age of 24 in May 1980.
In July 2021, the Cold Case Team of the US Air Force was contacted and was able to provide Steven’s dental records from his time in the service. The records were sent to Dr. Bell who compared them against John Doe’s records and found them to be a match. Steven Lee Knox was formally identified on July 15, 2021.
The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office and Othram Inc. are grateful to Audiochuck, whose generous funding made it possible for Steven Lee Knox to be identified after 41 years.
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 recovery, 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 fail. Follow Othram on Twitter @OthramTech or visit Othram.com to learn how we can help you with your case. Visit dnasolves.com to learn how anyone can make a difference in helping solve the next cold case.