Remains of Oregon teen who went missing over 50 years ago are identified after someone uploaded their DNA into genealogy site

The remains of a Portland, Oregon, teenager who vanished in the late 1960s have been identified through advanced DNA testing more than 50 years after she went missing, authorities said.

In 1970, a Boy Scout troop leader discovered the remains buried in a shallow grave on Sauvie Island in Oregon. Investigators at the time were unable to identify them, but noted that that trauma to the body indicated foul play, Oregon State Police announced in a news release on Thursday.

Over half a century later, investigators using advanced DNA techniques determined the remains as those of Sandra Young, a student at Grant High School in Portland who had been missing since 1968 or 1969, according to the police.

The break in the case came in January 2023, when someone uploaded their DNA results into a genealogy database GEDMatch and was immediately recognized as a potential distant family member, state police said.

Investigators worked with family members to get additional DNA samples uploaded into the database and family trees were developed, eventually leading to Young’s identification, authorities said.

Young, born June 25, 1951, was last seen in Portland. Her remains were found on the far north end of Sauvie Island, more than 10 miles north of the city.

She appeared to be the sister of one of the genetic matches who uploaded her DNA sample into the database, police said. Family members told authorities they believed Young went missing from Portland around the time the remains were discovered, according to the news release.

The case marks another example of how investigative genetic genealogy – a field that combines DNA evidence and traditional genealogy to find biological connections between people – is helping detectives solve cold cases and identify the remains of unknown people found decades ago.

“Sandra Young has now regained her identity after 54 years,” said Dr. Nici Vance of the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office. “Her story represents a remarkable amount of diligence and collaboration between family members, detectives, Oregon State Medical Examiner staff, and our contract laboratory Parabon Nanolabs.”

The Portland Police Bureau “has been encouraged to conduct further investigation to determine, if possible, the circumstances of Sandy Young’s death,” according to the release.

Before the match was found, investigators looking into the case and the remains over the years had been able to predict the gender, and as technology advanced, predicted her facial characteristics as well in 2021.

“This is yet another example of the innovative ways the ME’s Office and investigative genetic genealogy can help Oregonians find closure,” Vance said. “This technology gives investigators the powerful ability to assist all Oregon agencies with the resolution of their cold case mysteries.”

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