[Fox News] Remains of Oregon teenager identified after 54 years using advanced genetic genealogy

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The remains of a missing teenager found 54 years ago have finally been identified, the Oregon State Police said. 

Sandra Young was a student at Portland’ Oregon’s Grant High School when she went missing in 1968 or 1969, the Oregon State Police said in a release this week. 

Her skeleton was found by a Boy Scout troop leader in 1970 in a shallow grave on Sauvie Island along the Columbia River along with the tattered remains of her clothing and a black wig.

Investigators said they suspected foul play, but no one has ever been charged in her death. 

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“Sandra Young has now regained her identity after 54 years,” said Dr. Nici Vance, the state’s Human Identification Program Coordinator at the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office. “Her story represents a remarkable amount of diligence and collaboration between family members, detectives, Oregon State Medical Examiner staff, and our contract laboratory, Parabon NanoLabs. 

“This is yet another example of the innovative ways the ME’s Office and investigative genetic genealogy can help Oregonians find closure. This technology gives investigators the powerful ability to assist all Oregon agencies with the resolution of their cold case mysteries.”

In 2004, Young’s remains were moved to the state’s medical examiner facility in Clackamas County with more than 100 other unidentified remains. 

A bone sample was sent to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification and an anthropology report was done. 

Despite her DNA profile being added to the Combined DNA Index System or CODIS, which is a DNA database for missing persons, no matches were found.

 In 2018, Young’s case was identified as one that could possibly be solved using DNA Phenotyping and Investigative Genetic Genealogy and the Oregon State Police Medical Examiner’s Office was awarded a National Institute of Justice grant.

Using a fragment of her bone, Parabon NanoLabs used her genetic material to find that she was of West African, South African, and Northern European descent, with brown to dark brown skin, brown eyes, and black hair.

Still unidentified in 2021, a prediction of what her face looked like was created.  

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“To see her face come to life through DNA phenotyping was striking,” Vance said. 

Last year, someone uploaded their DNA onto GEDMatch, a genetic genealogy and family tree search company, and a match was made with Young. 

A genetic genealogist spoke to other family members of Young’s distant relative, encouraging them to upload their DNA and eventually a family tree started to emerge. Relatives said Young had gone missing from Portland either in 1968 or 1969. 

A woman identified as Young’s sister was then interviewed by the Portland Police Bureau. 

“Through a series of informative, poignant, and difficult interviews, Detective [Heidi] Helwig learned that this individual not only lost a teenage sister when Sandra went missing in 1968 or 1969, they also lost a sister to gun violence in the 1970s,” the police said. “The family member was cooperative, supportive, and motivated to determine if the remains could be their sister, Sandra Young.”

In October, a definitive profile determined Sandra “Sandy” Young was born on June 25, 1951, and went missing in 1968 or 1969. 

The Portland Police Bureau has been encouraged by the state police to investigate the circumstances of Young’s death. 

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Genetic genealogy casework has been highly successful but can cost up to $10,000 per case. 

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