In January 1980, three transient individuals were walking in a railroad tunnel located at 700 E. Trent in Spokane, Washington when they discovered a deceased male curled up with burn marks to his torso and significant head trauma. The man's death was ruled a homicide due to traumatic injuries and smoke inhalation. The man did not have any identification and confirming his identity proved difficult as no missing person's report was ever filed for someone fitting his profile.
It was determined that the unknown male individual was between the ages of 35 and 45; he was 5’6" tall and weighed 125 pounds. An autopsy was conducted, but no DNA samples were retained, which was not an uncommon practice at the time of the man's murder. In 1980, technology and forensic testing ability were virtually unrecognizable from the capabilities of today. Spokane Police Department detectives gathered evidence, conducted interviews, and followed up on leads, but the case went cold despite their exhaustive efforts. Fingerprints were also collected, but they failed to produce an identification. The homicide victim was buried as a John Doe in February 1980 in Fairmount Memorial Park. In 2007, details of the case were uploaded to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as UP457. For more than four decades, his identity has remained a mystery.
Because no DNA evidence was retained from the victim, his body was exhumed in October 2022 to collect forensic samples for testing at Othram. The forensic evidence was sent to Othram's laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown man. Othram's in-house genealogy team used forensic genetic genealogy to provide Spokane Police Department detectives with investigative leads, including potential family members of the unidentified man.
Using these leads, Spokane Police Department detectives and an investigator from the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office located a potential son of the unknown homicide victim in Missouri. The man's potential son provided a DNA sample for reference testing. In April of 2023, Othram confirmed the parent/child relationship using KinSNP® familial reference testing, providing an identity of the John Doe as Donald Leroy Pearson. Pearson, who was born in 1924, was 56-years-old at the time of his death. He was born in Nebraska and many of his known addresses are in the Midwest. Pearson's siblings are deceased and his children shared that their father was not present in their lives.
Investigators with the Spokane Police Department and the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office encourage anyone who knew Pearson or anyone with knowledge about the cirumstances surrounding his death to contact investigators through Crime Check at 509-456-2233 to help bring answers around his death and closure to the case. This cold case remains open with the Spokane Police Department and few leads about the suspect exist.
In July of 2022, the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office received a grant to help identify human remains using forensic genetic genealogy. This grant funded the identification of Donald Leroy Pearson as well as the identification of "Millie Doe" as Ruth Belle Waymire in February of 2023. While a suspect has been named in the death of Waymire, Spokane Police Department cold case detectives continue to seek leads in her death as well.
Detectives with the Spokane Police Department and Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office investigators extend their appreciation to Fairmount Memorial Association, Hickory County Sheriff’s Office, and also to Pearson’s relatives who shared their DNA and family history to help solve this 43-year-old case.