|Genetic breakthrough reignites Mount Hood cold case posted on 12/01/2020|
Groundbreaking genetic analysis and genealogical research
identified skeletal remains found on Mount Hood in 1986 as a young Oregon woman
who was never reported missing despite her disappearance and death in the
mid-seventies, announced state forensic officials in late October.
Now with a positive identity to the cold case, the Clackamas
County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) is asking for public assistance determining the
cause of death of 19-year-old Wanda Ann Herr more than four decades ago.
“She was truly a mystery. She wasn’t on anybody’s radar,”
said Dr. Nici Vance, State Forensic Anthropologist with the Oregon State
Police. “After years of working on the missing persons cases (in the state) you
know all the names. We had never heard this girl’s name before.”
The search began with a partial skull, a single tooth and
bone fragments discovered by US Forest Service Workers on Still Creek Road near
Government Camp in 1986.
At the time, an Oregon State Police forensic examiner
determined the remains belonged to a woman in her twenties or a small man and
had likely been in the woods for ten years. The year of death was established
as approximately 1976.
Little else could be determined about the identity of the
person, and the case remained dormant for decades.
In 2008 Dr. Vance had the partial skull sent to the
University of North Texas for DNA analysis. The results concluded the skull
belonged to a woman in her late teens or early twenties.
DNA samples gathered from the skull fragment was uploaded
into a national forensic DNA database operated by the FBI, and the case was
entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs). The
DNA yielded no matches and the case remained open.
In January 2019, the Oregon State Medical Examiner's Office
received a grant to perform a new method of intensive DNA analysis and forensic
genetic genealogy on more than 100 sets of unidentified human skeletal remains
in the state.
This new process became famous in 2018 when it was used to
track down and apprehend the Golden State Killer.
The Government Camp skull was among the first group of DNA
samples sent out to Parabon Nanolabs in December 2019.
The lab’s genetic analysis revealed the skull belonged to a
“female of Northern European descent with fair skin, hazel/brown eyes, brown
hair, and some freckles,” said county officials.
This breakthrough, combined with genealogical research
utilizing the GEDmatch website, produced the first positive identification from
the skull: Wanda Ann Herr, born in 1957.
“I had worked with the company. I knew what they were
capable of,” Dr. Vance said. “They garnered some great results.”
Little information about Wanda is currently known.
Investigators contacted her surviving sisters, and with their cooperation,
conducted further DNA testing to confirm her identity.
According to her sisters, Wanda was raised apart from her
family and was possibly living in a group home in Gresham at the time of her
Investigators stated that they believe she was a “chronic
runaway” based on interviews. There are no records of her as a runaway or
missing person according to county officials.
“She came from kind of a dysfunctional family back in the
day,” said Detective Mary Nunn of the CCSO Homicide & Violent Crimes Unit.
“A lot of people are calling who knew her as a child. We’re
looking for people who knew her from 1976 when she was 19, people from the
group home, someone who knows who she hung out with,” Detective Nunn said.
Investigators stated that Wanda had no DMV record, bank
account and that she is not mentioned in any police report.
Detectives urge anyone who knew Wanda Ann Herr, her
associates or her whereabouts in the 1970s to contact the CCSO Tip Line at
503-723-4949 or online at https://www.clackamas.us/sheriff/tip. Please
reference CCSO Case # 86-025724.
By Ben Simpson/MT