Investigators employing advanced DNA testing to ID Palisades' John Doe - East Idaho News

Investigators employing advanced DNA testing to ID Palisades’ John Doe

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IRWIN — The Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office hopes advanced DNA technology can help identify remains found in 2002 near Palisades Reservoir.

The partnership between Othram Inc. and the Sheriff’s Office comes after almost two decades of trying to identify the remains uncovered after a man walking his dog near the reservoir found part of a skull. According to a sheriff’s office news release, Othram Inc. is a private Texas laboratory that examines forensic evidence with advanced DNA testing to identify the remains of close family members.

“This is one of those cases that as time goes by and technology processes evolve and new things come about that we become aware of,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Bryan Lovell told “So here’s another piece of technology that’s available to take a look at what we got … and see if this company and their scientific processes can come up with an identification or something more that leads us towards identification.”

When deputies learned of the skull in September 2002, a search of the area led to discovering additional pieces of a tailbone, pelvic bone, and vertebrae. The pathologist said the weathered skull pieces belonged to a man between 25 and 45 years old. Experts also believe the bones might have been in the reservoir for 15 to 20 years before the hiker found them. DNA testing with the FBI confirmed the skull and pelvic bones belonged to the same person.

“Deputies researched past drowning cases from 1978 to 1998 where bodies had not been recovered, finding one incident in 1980 where four individuals drowned after their boat capsized about 100 yards from the shore,” according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The May 24, 1980, boating incident led to the presumed drowning of 38-year-olds Larry Hill and Laddie Schiess. Two children, 10-year-old Toni Schiess and 7-year-old Rex Hill, also are presumed to have drowned in the chilled waters, according to the Idaho Missing Persons Clearinghouse.

“Although this accidental drowning has been a focus of the investigation, deputies haven’t ruled out the remains belonging to victims of a separate crime or incident,” according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The Sheriff’s Office hopes with the partnership, Othram’s website and community help will give enough information needed to determine John Doe’s identity. Investigators also are looking for relatives of those who went missing in the Palisades area between 1978 and 2002.

“If they’re willing to provide a DNA sample, they may be able to compare that to what they find in these fragments of bone and get us closer to even identifying to the family line they belong to,” Lovell said.

Anyone with information on the case or who have any family ties to missing and unrecovered people in the Palisades area is asked to call Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Karl Noah at (208) 529-1375.

A fund has also been established on the Orthram Inc. website to help cover the cost of identifying the remains. The Sheriff’s Office has contributed $1,000 to the campaign and asks for donors to help solve the case.

“If they’re able to contribute to this effort, then it’s very much appreciated,” Lovell said. “I know that the families of these unidentified remains belong to would be very appreciated in that respect to have some closure.”

Hill photo
Larry Hill, left, and Rex Hill, right, | Idaho Missing Persons Clearinghouse
Laddie Schiess, left, Toni Schiess, right. | Idaho Missing Persons Clearinghouse