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DNA helps identify 2 cold cases victims from 1977, 2009 in Snohomish County

The Snohomish County Sheriff's Office said Othram, Inc. has helped identify the remains of Blaine Has Tricks and Alice Lou Williams.

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. — The Snohomish County Sheriff's Office (SCSO) announced Thursday that DNA has helped identify a John Doe and a Jane Doe at the center of two separate cold cases in the county.

Othram, Inc., a Houston, Texas-based lab, helped identify the remains of Blaine Has Tricks, whose body was found in a landfill in 1977, and Alice Lou Williams, who went missing in 1981, SCSO said.

"There's always hope, even after 45 years," said Snohomish County Sheriff's Office Cold Case Detective Jim Scharf. "These cases can be solved."

Blaine Has Tricks

In September 1977, an employee at the Marysville Landfill discovered human remains and contacted SCSO. SCSO determined the man, later identified as Has Tricks, had come to the landfill from business dumpsters in downtown Seattle.

The Snohomish County coroner ruled the death a homicide but an autopsy could not determine the cause due to extensive post-mortem trauma from compaction during transport and bulldozing processes at the landfill.

The Seattle Police Department and the King County Sheriff's Office ruled out several missing persons by dental records and circumstances.

SCSO pointed to record-keeping practices at both the coroner's office and the sheriff's office as contributing to the case going cold.

Authorities have been reexamining the case since 2009 and exhumed Has Tricks' body in 2011.

In 2021, detectives submitted remains to Othram for DNA extraction and testing. The DNA was used to link Has Tricks to relatives in the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, and Has Tricks was identified.

Has Tricks disappeared in 1977 after hopping a train in Spokane, Washington with his brother. Has Tricks was not seen again or reported missing. 

Verle Red Tomahawk, who is Has Tricks' cousin, said they can bring him home thanks to the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office.

"They never gave up," Red Tomahawk said. "They were persistent and doing their work and it paid off. They identified them."

Red Tomahawk is one of Has Tricks' only surviving family members and lives on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Reservation in North Dakota where Has Tricks grew up.

Red Tomahawk remembered Has Tricks as being nice to everybody and treating people with respect.

"Even though he's passed away, at least he'll be brought back to the homeland," Red Tomahawk said.

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Alice Lou Williams

Credit: Snohomish County Sheriff's Office
Alice Lou Williams.

In 2009, U.S. Forest Service surveyors discovered a partial human skull in a steep ravine near Beckler Road north of Skykomish.

Authorities searched the area but were unable to find other remains, clothing or jewelry.

Dr. Kathy Taylor, a forensic anthropologist for King County and Washington state, determined the remains belonged to a woman in her 40s. SCSO said due to the limited remains found, no other physical characteristics could be determined.

Authorities classified the death as suspicious due to the presence of trauma and the location where the remains were found.

In 2021, SCSO sent remains to Othram for DNA extraction and testing.

In 2022, Othram was able to extract enough DNA to make multiple close genealogical matches. 

The Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office officially identified the woman as Alice Lou Williams and classified her death as a homicide.

Williams reportedly went missing under suspicious circumstances from her Lake Loma recreational cabin in July 1981, SCSO said.

Solving the mystery

Othram works with the Washington state Attorney General's Office to solve cases around the state. It has identified five victims and solved two murder cases in Washington, according to dnasolve.com. 

Funding comes from various sources, including federal funding and crowdsourcing. Each solve costs around $5,000 to $6,000.

Audio Chuck, a true-crime podcast company, funded Williams' and Has Tricks' identification.

Currently, there are 103 cold cases dating back to 1951, and the sheriff's office has found answers to 30 of them.

"I never had any comprehension that we'd be able to solve this many cases since I've been on the cold case team," Scharf, the Snohomish County detective, said.

Scharf said forensic genealogy is the best tool to have emerged in law enforcement. Scharf said SCSO doesn’t have any more DNA evidence cold cases they are trying to identify, clarifying they are all identified or already have profiles in place.

 

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