Remains found in 2003 in Montana identified as missing Bothell man

BOTHELL – A bottle of Aleve. A duffel bag. A Smith & Wesson .22 caliber pistol and holster.

These are some of the things found near human remains in Marion, Montana, a small town west of Kalispell, on October 26, 2003.

The skeleton was missing a torso and at least one hand. Adidas shoes, size 11, were found on the body. Her hair color and eye color were unknown. He would be between 18 and 49 years old.

More than 18 years later, the remains were identified this week as Steven Gooch, a Bothell man, marking the culmination of years of genetic research.

Gooch’s family last heard of him in 1995, when he was 29. His family told authorities he was in San Diego and may be heading to Las Vegas. He was reported missing in 1996.

Seven years later, a husband and wife hunting in the woods found a gun at the top of a cliff – then a human skull at the base. He was nicknamed Cliff Doe.

For more than a decade, all Montana police have been able to find “dead ends,” said Shelley Giebeig, deputy coroner with the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office.

‘It was one of those cases that you always hear about in the office,’ she told the Daily Herald.

A few years ago, Giebeig got into the business. She began by entering what little information authorities had into a national missing persons database. Then, in 2019, she partnered with the DNA Doe Project, a national, volunteer-run nonprofit that aims to identify deceased people using forensic genealogy. Once a DNA profile has been extracted, researchers can compare it to genetic profiles of relatives on public databases, then build a backward family tree to identify the deceased.

The technique has been used to identify several longtime John and Jane Does here in Snohomish County, including a 17-year-old girl murdered in Everett in 1977, an Everett Air Force veterinarian missing since 1980 and a man found dead in a Mill Creek. shed in 2015.

Artist’s renderings of Cliff Doe as investigators attempted to determine his identity. (National Missing and Unidentified Persons System)

The volunteers initially found very distant matches for Cliff Doe, said Ruth Foreman, a Texas retiree who led the DNA Doe Project team investigating the case. These ancestors were from the 1600s and 1700s.

“You can’t start looking for descendants from an ancestor that’s in the 1700s,” Foreman said in an interview. “You have to work there long enough to find matches that are linked to at least the mid-1800s, because you’re looking at hundreds and hundreds of descendants.”

They eventually found ancestors in the Kentucky coal country in the early 19th century, she said. Their descendants emigrated to Indiana. Foreman thought that was where they would find their match. With these clues, his team continued to piece together who this John Doe might be.

A few weeks ago, the team sent five people suspected of being close relatives of the unidentified man to Giebeig. The researchers knew they were close. Foreman warned law enforcement that they may notify relatives of the death of a family member.

MacDonald asked the first person who called back if he had any missing relatives.

“Well, my son,” the man replied, to Giebeig’s surprise.

The man sent his DNA.

He confirmed that the unnamed man was his son.

“There’s such a sense of relief because you feel like there’s a family out there waiting and wanting answers and they have no idea what’s happened to them,” he said. said Foreman. “And you might be the only one who can give them that answer.”

Often, volunteers identify the long-deceased John Does, but find that there is no one alive who really cares. Gooch’s father still needed closure, and that made this case all the more rewarding, Foreman said.

It took Project DNA Doe more than three years to solve the case, making it one of the longest running for the nonprofit organization. Their average is one or two months, Foreman said, noting that identifying this John Doe had become an “obsession” for her. She spent 2,000 hours trying to figure it out.

At times during those three years, Foreman and his team weren’t sure they could crack the case.

Police will now attempt to determine the circumstances that led to Gooch’s death. The cause and manner of death remain unresolved, Flathead County Sheriff Brian Heino said. The Montana State Crime Lab conducted an examination, but the lack of a full set of remains posed a challenge.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done trying to figure out how he got here and trying to get more answers, if we can,” Giebeig said. “I don’t know if we’ll get those answers.”

Anyone with information that may be helpful is encouraged to contact the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office in Montana at 406-758-5600 or [email protected]

Rue Jake Goldstein: 425 339-3439; [email protected] Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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