7 episodes

There are 120 unidentified human remains in Oregon – cases exist in all but three counties. Most were discovered in the Pacific Northwest wilderness, parts of their skeleton scattered in between rocks and twigs, and most go unfound and unidentified for decades. The Unidentifieds, a narrative podcast hosted by Regan Mertz and Dave Killen for The Oregonian/OregonLive, tells the story of four of those cold cases and how online genealogy and forensic anthropology helped families get closure.

The Unidentifieds The Oregonian/OregonLive.com

    • News
    • 4.8 • 121 Ratings

There are 120 unidentified human remains in Oregon – cases exist in all but three counties. Most were discovered in the Pacific Northwest wilderness, parts of their skeleton scattered in between rocks and twigs, and most go unfound and unidentified for decades. The Unidentifieds, a narrative podcast hosted by Regan Mertz and Dave Killen for The Oregonian/OregonLive, tells the story of four of those cold cases and how online genealogy and forensic anthropology helped families get closure.

    Closure

    Closure

    What would you do if someone you loved vanished and was never heard from again? That was the case for several families we interviewed on the first five episodes of The Unidentifieds podcast.
    In previous episodes, we explored the rapidly expanding use of genetic genealogy in finding the identities of long lost souls whose remains were found in Oregon.
    We told the stories of a nomadic Navy veteran, a young woman who liked to sing, a girl who wore a pink plaid coat and mother of pearl ring, and a little boy whose time on earth was too short.
    They all vanished in Oregon. But they were all also found in Oregon. Their stories told, and their names said aloud once again, thanks to the help of passionate experts, their families and advances in DNA technology and genetic genealogy.
    On the final episode of The Unidentifieds, hosts Regan Mertz and Dave Killen unpack the emotional toll on families and how getting answers about their loved ones’ fates – even if decades later – brings closure.
    The investigators and scientists who worked on the cold cases reflect on how each person’s story lingers in their memory, long after the cases were solved.
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    • 29 min
    Human remains found near Multnomah Falls in 1979 identified 4 decades later

    Human remains found near Multnomah Falls in 1979 identified 4 decades later

    In September 1979, two hikers discovered human remains on a rocky slope above a little-used trail near Multnomah Falls. They found bones, a skull and a few personal belongings: gold-rimmed aviator glasses, a yellow cap with black felt letters reading “NT” and a chewed-up checkbook from First National Bank of Oregon. But there was no wallet or other identifying information.
    Based on the bones and hair found at the scene, investigators determined the body likely belonged to a man, between 20 and 35 years old, with a thick, curly beard. A news brief that ran in The Oregonian noted that the remains “had been exposed to the elements for quite some time.”
    Police sent the skull and mandible to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., for an anthropological exam, which concluded that the person who died was likely African American.
    But who did the remains belong to? Police had no leads. No one had been reported missing. For decades the bones sat in a box at the Oregon State Police medical examiner’s office in Clackamas.
    Now, more than four decades after the remains were first discovered, John Doe 79-1862 has a name.
    On Episode 5 of The Unidentifieds, hosts Regan Mertz and Dave Killen travel to Multnomah Falls and explore its labyrinth-like trail network. They talk to investigators assigned to the case in 1979 and to experts who explain how the cruel legacy of slavery has affected genetic genealogy efforts to connect Black families to lost relatives.
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    • 36 min
    U.S. Forest Service workers find a skull near Government Camp

    U.S. Forest Service workers find a skull near Government Camp

    On August 2, 1986, two U.S. Forest Service workers were out collecting timber data on a remote logging road in the Mt. Hood National Forest near Government Camp when they stumbled upon a human skull, bone fragments, and a single tooth.
    Investigators took photos of the scene and the remains were transported and inventoried at the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office.
    The coroner estimated that the skull had been in the woods for about a decade, which meant the person had died around 1976. Investigators released those details to the public and they got dozens of leads through a tip line.
    But to no avail, the case went cold. It was just another body found in Oregon’s woods unclaimed, unidentified.
    On episode four of The Unidentifieds, hosts Regan Mertz and Dave Killen go back to one Oregon case that found a resolution weeks before the world shut down in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Regan and Dave take listeners to the dense woods near Government Camp to revisit the decades-old case.
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    • 30 min
    Genetic genealogy 101

    Genetic genealogy 101

    In the first two episodes of The Unidentifieds, we explored two decades-old cold cases involving remains found in southern Oregon. We learned how DNA and genealogical sleuthing gave a little boy and a young woman their names back.

    But what is genetic genealogy? It goes far beyond the 23andMe gift card you received a few holidays ago from a relative.

    In Episode 3, hosts Regan Mertz and Dave Killen look at the process of genetic genealogy itself and how advances in DNA technology have made it an enormously powerful tool for investigators.

    They delve into the history, science and practice of genetic genealogy and how investigators are using it to solve decades-old unidentified human remains cold cases in Oregon and around the nation.

    Regan also delves into the world herself and takes an Ancestry DNA test to learn more about her genetic makeup.

    Learn more about The Unidentifieds here: https://www.oregonlive.com/theunidentifieds/
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    • 30 min
    The unknown baby boy and the reservoir 

    The unknown baby boy and the reservoir 

    On the morning of July 11, 1963, a fisherman made a horrifying discovery: He stumbled across the concealed remains of a 2-year-old boy.
    The tiny body was wrapped in blankets, tied with wire and held down by iron weights in the Keene Creek Reservoir along Oregon 66 east of Ashland, Oregon.
    Officials moved the body to a cemetery where his tombstone read, “Unknown Baby Boy 1961-1963.″ The investigation was given case number 63-2301. For more than 50 years, it wouldn’t get much further than that. By 2020, the case was the oldest known unidentified human remains case in the state of Oregon.
    On Episode 2 of The Unidentifieds podcast, hosts Regan Mertz and Dave Killen take listeners on a trip to the Siskiyou Mountains where the remains were found, talk to a former investigator who pursued the case, and introduce you to Cece Moore, Parabon NanoLabs’ chief genetic genealogist. Moore is one of the nation’s foremost experts in the field.
    In this episode, we learn how a Facebook message, a DNA match and genealogical sleuthing gave a little boy his name back.
    Subscribe to The Unidentifieds anywhere you listen to podcasts and give it a five-star rating on Apple Podcasts. Better yet, tell a friend about the show if you enjoyed it.
    Look for Episode 3 on April 24.
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    • 29 min
    Remains found along the Redwood Highway

    Remains found along the Redwood Highway

    There are so many unidentified human remains in the United States that the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System calls it “the nation’s silent mass disaster.” Roughly 4,400 human remains are found every year, and nearly one-quarter of those remain unidentified after one year.
    Some people were never reported missing. Some went missing decades ago. Some remains are incomplete, parts of them still out there like missing pieces to a puzzle. Cases run cold. The unidentified remains are placed in boxes and left on evidence room shelves, waiting for another shot at an investigation. Or maybe just a chance to be remembered. And that’s if their cardboard tombs are not lost or forgotten first.
    In Oregon, there are 120 unidentified persons cases. Cold cases exist in 33 of Oregon’s 36 counties.
    Regan Mertz spent months delving into this issue for The Oregonian/OregonLive. She obtained and reviewed missing persons case files, interviewed current and former law enforcement officers, anthropologists and experts around the country. She also interviewed family members of missing people.
    This is The Unidentifieds, a podcast that investigates four long-forgotten cases in Oregon and how online genealogy and forensic anthropology helped families get closure. Cases that long seemed hopeless, now seem solvable. People who’ve existed for decades as lonely, nameless phantoms can, if nothing else, get their identities back.
    In episode one, Regan and co-host Dave Killen go on a trip to southern Oregon’s Redwood Highway, where in 1971 a father and son discovered what looked liked a human spine and ribs while on a camping trip near mile marker 35.
    Upon initial investigation, the remains appeared to belong to a young woman, 18 to 20 years old, tall and slim.
    But the case went cold. And the remains became known as Jane Doe 79-940.
    Listen to episode one of The Unidentifieds to learn how genetic genealogy helped solve this 47-year-old case.
    And subscribe to The Unidentifieds anywhere you listen to podcasts and give it a five-star rating on Apple Podcasts. Look for Episode 2 on April 17.
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    • 36 min

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5
121 Ratings

121 Ratings

Luxmissus ,

Great limited series for those of us who live in and love the Pacific Northwest

I learned some thing every time I listen to this well produced podcast about unidentified Jane and John Does. The story arc is strong, the writing is clear, and the hosts are delightful. I hope the Oregonian produces more such series.

Not an old impotent guy ,

Fascinating!

I’m a genealogist that has dabbled in DNA. I love that a how a hobby I love has an even more practical application in identifying the unidentified.

Leslie.hanson ,

Unexpected gem

These are so so good, please keep making them!

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