State’s forensic anthropologist works to solve unidentified human remains mysteries

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SEATTLE — There are about a hundred unidentified human remains from Washington state, and many of these people could be identified with just a little help from you.

Washington’s Most Wanted’s Parella Lewis met with the forensic anthropologist who oversees all of the state’s human remain mysteries.

“There’s no face and it was very heat damaged because the fire had come through,” explains Dr. Kathy Taylor, Washington state’s only forensic anthropologist. She’s trying to identify human remains like the partial skull found by mushroom hunters in Central Washington back in 2013. Taylor adds, “We sent it away for DNA and in fact was able to extract a full profile. There was one little part that wasn’t burned, and they got a full profile out of it. We have illuminated two possibles. That profile is running through CODIS and is not hitting. We know this is a young adult female.”

Dr. Taylor says it’s possible she was dumped somewhere else and carried into the woods by animals. She says there is evidence to suggest it was a homicide. They just need one thing to solve this murder mystery. “We have a full profile from her; both mitochondrial and nuclear. So, all we need, the only thing that’s stopping us from identifying her, is a family reference sample.”

That means if you have a missing loved one, make sure law enforcement has your DNA so it can be compared to other samples in the system. “It’s a very, very, very strict protocol. It’s administered by the FBI and any family reference sample that is taken is only compared against those unidentified. That DNA cannot be used for anything else.”

And then there’s the case she inherited of a child also believed to be a murder victim. Taylor recalls, “In 2008, we recovered some skeletal remains that had been in holding at the University of Washington. It was in a box that had a postmark, September 9th, 1980 from Bay Center, Washington which is in Pacific County on the coast. We don’t know for a fact that the cranium was mailed in that box, but the address flap is missing off the box. So it either was mailed in that box or was stored in that box.” At the very least, she’s hoping that someone remembers finding a partial cranium back in the 80's and contacts her office with information. She has been able to get DNA from the remains and ruled out two missing children from the area. “What that tells us is either this is a child who has not been reported missing or it’s a child whose family has not submitted DNA,” Taylor says.

While forensic anthropology is Dr. Taylor’s expertise, her mission comes from the heart. Taylor sums it up by saying, “We know someone’s missing them, and they don’t belong here, they belong with the family. And the family has the right to know what happened to their loved one. But in the case of a homicide, that means somebody is getting away with it.”

If you have a missing loved one and would like to submit DNA for a possible match, contact your local police agency for help.