Detectives use family tree to ID cold-case shooting victim

EVERETT, Wash. (AP) — Detectives have used genetic genealogy to identify a long-unknown shooting victim whose body was found in a Snohomish County lake more than a quarter-century ago.

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday the body was that of Rodney Peter Johnson, who was found in Lake Stickney in 1994. His family last saw him in late 1987 or early 1988 when he left on a camping trip.

Investigators say the victim had been shot in the head, and his body had apparently been weighted down in the lake for more than six years before it finally floated to the top and was discovered.

Efforts to identify the body, including through sketches made by the medical examiner’s office, failed for more than two decades. But investigators this year enlisted a Texas-based DNA sequencing company, Othram Inc., to develop a genealogical profile from a degraded DNA sample extracted from the victim’s tooth.

The profile was then uploaded to a public genetic genealogy website, GEDmatch, which uses DNA profiles to help people find relatives, and it returned a hit for the victim’s first cousin. Detective Jim Scharf and Jane Jorensen, the lead investigator for the Snohomish County medical examiner, determined that Johnson was likely the victim and confirmed it this month after obtaining voluntary DNA samples from his father and brother.

The technique has been increasingly used in recent years to help solve cold cases where suspects or victims remain unidentified, including several cases in Washington state.

Investigators say Johnson would have been about 25 at the time of his death. They are asking anyone with information about him or his activities in the late 1980s to come forward. Detectives believe he lived on Northwest 60th Street in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood and that he worked at the Golden Dragon Chinese restaurant.