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Human Remains Identified In 43 Year Old Murder In Spokane

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~ For the second time in several months, Spokane Police and investigators with the Spokane County Medical Examiner's Office have solved a human remains/cold case using genetic genealogy.

In January of 1980, three transients were walking in a railroad tunnel located at 700 E. Trent in Spokane when they discovered a deceased male with burn marks to his torso and significant head trauma. The victim's death was ruled a homicide due to traumatic injuries and smoke inhalation. He was described as a young male between the ages of 35-45, 5'6, weighing 125 lbs. An autopsy was conducted but no DNA samples were retained, which was not uncommon in that era. Fingerprints were collected but they failed to produce an identification. So, the man was buried as a John Doe in February of 1980 in Fairmount Memorial Park.

In July of 2022, the Medical Examiner's Office received a grant to help identify human remains using genetic genealogy and the victim's body was exhumed in October of 2022 to collect samples which were sent to Othram Inc., a forensic lab which specializes in working with degraded specimens to obtain a DNA profile. Othram provided viable leads of potential relatives of the victim and SPD detectives located a son in Missouri who provided DNA and is assisting in the investigation. In April of 2023 Othram confirmed the parent/child relationship and revealed the identity of this John Doe as Donald Leroy Pearson who would have been 56 years old at the time of his death.

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SPD detectives are hopeful that anyone who knew Pearson will contact police through Crime Check at 509-456-2233 and help bring closure and answers to his death as few leads exist for suspects involved with his death. This cold case remains open with SPD while they continue their investigation into Pearson's death as well as Ruth Belle Waymire's whose body was pulled from the Spokane River in 1984 and identified earlier this year using genetic genealogy under the same grant used for Pearson's case.

SPD and the Spokane County Medical Examiner's Office would like to thank Othram, Fairmount Memorial Association, Hickory County Sheriff's Office, and Pearson's relatives for sharing their DNA and family history to help solve this 43-year-old case.

Filed Under: Government, City

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