In September 2002, a local resident found a skull at the Palisades Reservoir between Big Elk and Blowout Canyon and contacted the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies began a search of the area finding several more bones, including a human sacrum. The Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office had the bones analyzed by an anthropologist at Idaho State University (ISU), who helped determine which bones were human and which were non-human. The findings from ISU indicated the human bones to be from a male, approximately 25 to 45 years old and of undetermined racial affinity. Over time, the bones were analyzed by additional anthropologists and Deputies continued to look for a match but all leads were exhausted and the case went cold.
In researching drownings at the Palisades Reservoir, Deputies discovered a 1980 boating accident where two adult men and two children drowned. In that incident none of the victims bodies had been recovered and it appeared to be the closest known possible match to the unidentified bones. Efforts were made to locate x-rays and identifying information of the victims to compare to the bones located in 2002 but had proven unsuccessful in matching them to anyone.
Since 2002, Bonneville investigators have applied new technology and advances in DNA identification to this case to identify who the bones belonged to. This process included collecting DNA samples from biological relatives of the 1980 drowning victims, entered the bones in relevant databases including National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), and sent familial samples to the FBI for comparison to the bones.
In March 2021, Othram reached out to the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office and offered to assist with the identification of the victim, who had been affectionately nicknamed “Palisades Pete” by NamUs employee Janet Franson in 2014. The Bonneville County Sheriff's Office was able to commit $1000.00 towards this case. Othram partnered with long-time collaborators at SEMO Anthropology as well. Southeast Missouri State University anthropology students, led by Dr. Jennifer Bengtson, provided an updated anthropological analysis of the remains. They were also able to help fund the DNA testing through grant writing and fundraising efforts. The remainder of the funding came from the DNASolves Crowdfunding platform. Bonneville County Sheriff's Office and Othram are grateful for the support of everyone that contributed towards the crowdfunding campaign.
Othram then received skeletal remains from Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office and used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to produce a comprehensive genealogical profile for the unknown man. The Othram genealogy team conducted a genealogical search and produced investigative leads that were returned to Lt. Karl Noah. Interestingly, the investigative leads pointed to another case from the area, from years earlier.
This other case came from Teton County Sheriff’s Detective David Hodges in Jackson Hole Wyoming. Det. Hodges was aware of our case in Forensics Magazine and agreed there could be a connection to a missing person case from 1995. The victim, Kyle Martin, had drowned in the Hoback River while kayaking more than 20 miles upstream from the Palisades Reservoir on June 1st, 1995 but was never recovered. After entering Kyle Martin’s name in NamUs and obtaining a DNA sample from his family, investigators were able to confirm that the “Palisades Pete” bones discovered in 2002 were a match, bringing relief to a family who had waited 26 years for their loved one to be discovered.
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 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.