Missing person mystery from 1986 solved through DNA analysis of human bone - East Idaho News
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Missing person mystery from 1986 solved through DNA analysis of human bone

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IDAHO FALLS —- A 1986 missing person case has been solved after DNA from a tibia bone was identified 38 years later.

On April 1, 1986, 37-year-old Wayne Dee Heath was fishing with a friend on the south fork of the Snake River in Bonneville County, just below the Palisades Dam, when an anchor rope got tangled in the boat’s propellor, according to a news release from the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Department.

This caused the boat to fill with water quickly, and Heath could not safely reach the shore.

Witnesses stated at the time, Heath disappeared about a quarter of a mile downstream from the dam, but search efforts were unsuccessful, and Heath’s body was never found.

In June 2009, a local resident found a human tibia bone on a sand bar while fishing the Snake River near Heise in Jefferson County.

The bone was given to law enforcement to work towards confirming who it may belong to.

In January 2013, the University of Texas Health Sciences Department was able to obtain a DNA profile for the bone and enter its genetic data into the Unidentified Human Remains Index of the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).

In February 2024, the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office received notification from the University of Texas that they were able to link the DNA from the bone to family DNA reference samples for Heath’s son and sister.

Advancements in technology and resources related to DNA collection over time ultimately confirmed the bone belonged to Heath.

“This discovery has allowed detectives to bring this case to a close and provide answers to the Heath family,” states the release. “The Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office is grateful for the assistance of University of Texas (UNT), Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Idaho State University Deptment Of Anthology, and the Ada County Coroner’s Office in resolving this case.”

The Sheriff’s Office says they recognize the importance of providing closure and answers to families with missing loved ones.

“This case is a great example of partners and resources who work hard to apply advancements in DNA and technology to these cases decades later,” states the release. “Our hope in this instance is relief for the Heath family and peace of mind.”

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