According to NAMUS, 4,400 unidentified bodies are recovered each year. A number of non-profit organizations and companies are working to provide names to these John and Jane Does. Using genetic genealogy has shown promise in providing these identities, but with resources limited, many have asked the public to help fund testing in the cases.
The DNA Doe Project is a non-profit group that works with law enforcement agencies, coroners, and medical examiners nationwide to identify John and Jane Does. To cover the cost of DNA testing, DDP raises money through their crowdfunding program, the DDP Fund. Listing their pending and active cases on their website, donors are able to choose which cases to support and are also able to donate to a general fund. In May of 2018, DDP announced its first successful DNA identification of a DDP Fund program recipient with the Lyle Stevik case.
“Lyle Stevik” was the alias that the John Doe had used when checking into a motel in Amanda Park, Washington in 2001. A couple of days later, he committed suicide, leaving no hint as to his actual identity. Due to the high social media profile of Lyle’s case, DDP decided this would be a good test for their DDP Fund program. Within 12 hours, enough had been raised to cover the expense of DNA analysis for the case. Once analysis was complete, 20 volunteers spent hundreds of hours pouring through genealogical records and building family trees to provide Lyle’s family with closure.
The Anthropology Club at Southeast Missouri State University has found success in partnering with Othram, a Texas-based genomics company, and Redgrave Research to provide names to unidentified remains. In April 2020, Dr. Jennifer Bengtson, associate professor of anthropology, and her students began the work of identifying remains found in a field near Charleston, Missouri in 1979 that had been turned over to the university. With funds raised through the Southeast Missouri University Foundation, the team was able to use advanced DNA sequencing and genetic genealogy techniques to identify the man as Harry. Harry was in his mid-30s when he drowned in the Mississippi River. Though his death was known to his family and the authorities, his body was never recovered.
Read more on how the team worked to identify Harry in the May issue of The ISHI Report.
Currently, Dr. Bengtson and her students are working on identifying a second set of remains believed to be of an older biological male of European ancestry who was recovered in 1980. Their donor wall indicates that they have received 70% of their $3,500 goal. Othram is currently partnering with law enforcement across the country to raise funds in hopes of solving additional cases, all listed on their website.
Though the amateur sleuth is nothing new, the growth of consumer DNA databases and the reach provided crowdfunding campaigns has given the public new roles in solving crime and identifying John and Jane Does.
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