Oregon's Oldest Cold Case Solved

Photo: Ford, Brad

On July 11, 1963, the concealed body of a fully-dressed decomposed male toddler was discovered by a fisherman in the water of Keen County Reservoir along Highway 66, southeast of Ashland, Oregon in Jackson County. The child’s body was dressed in high-quality clothing, consisting of a red long-sleeve shirt, gray corduroy pants, a cloth diaper with blue diaper pins, anklet socks, and white walker “Jumping Jack” brand shoes. He was also wrapped in a blue-colored blanket and a handmade patchwork quilt with red gingham squares. Two iron assayer’s molds were wrapped in the quilt in an apparent attempt to weigh the toddler down in the water. Despite exhaustive investigative efforts, the child was not identified, and authorities interred his body at Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery in Medford, Oregon on July 24, 1963. The young boy’s identity has remained a mystery since that evening. Until now.

Jackson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) took over the case in 1963, and through the ensuing 58 years more than 23 JCSO Sheriff’s, detectives, and deputies worked the case with assistance from Oregon State Police (OSP) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The case went cold and the files were archived for nearly 45 years. In 2007, JCSO Detective Sgt. Colin Fagan and special investigator Jim Tattersal re-opened the Keene Creek toddler case. In August 2008, the tiny body was exhumed from his resting place at Hillcrest Memorial Park cemetery and a DNA sample was collected.

In 2009-2010, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) offered their services to Jackson County investigators and created a composite image to produce possible investigative leads.

See image: NCMEC 3-D digital composite image created in 2009

In addition, the University of North Texas-Center for Human Identification (UNT-CHI) extracted a DNA profile from the remains, and the profile was uploaded into the Combined DNA Indexing System (CODIS) at that time. Unfortunately, no genetic associations to missing persons or family reference standards in the CODIS database were established.

In 2018, the Oregon State Police Medical Examiner’s Office was awarded an NIJ grant to perform innovative DNA techniques on unsolved unidentified skeletal remains cases.This cold case was recognized as one that could potentially be resolved by DNA Phenotyping and Investigative Genetic Genealogy provided by OSP’s vendor lab, Parabon Nanolabs.

Jackson County Sheriff’s Office Detective Christian Adams, working alongside retired Jackson County Death Investigator Tim Pike and OSP’s State Forensic Anthropologist and Human Identification Program Coordinator Dr. Nici Vance, submitted the biological sample of the unidentified child to Parabon Nanolabs to generate investigative leads through DNA Phenotyping and Genetic Genealogy.

In October 2020 a DNA profile suitable for comparison to genealogy databases was successfully extracted.

The first Parabon Nanolabs report to be completed was a DNA Phenotyping Report, where genetic material was used to determine eye color, hair color, skin color, and the ancestry of the deceased. The report predicted this child was of Northern European descent, with very fair skin, brown eyes, and brown to light blonde hair. This information was immediately used by NCMEC to revise their previous composite image so that an updated image could be used by law enforcement.    

See image: Updated NCMEC 3-D digital composite image created in 2021

The subsequent investigative genetic genealogy report provided an abundance of compelling information and the strongest investigative lead in the now 58-year-old cold case.

CeCe Moore, Chief Genetic Genealogist with Parabon Nanolabs, searched the open-source DNA database GEDmatch and several relatives to the unidentified boy were found. Searching their family trees eventually led to the immediate family members of the boy who then provided information regarding his identity.

An interview with a possible relative revealed that as a child, he had a young sibling named “Stevie” with disabilities born in New Mexico, who lived in Oregon in the early 1960s but mysteriously vanished from the family with little explanation. One challenging factor for detectives following the lead was that New Mexico’s vital records (such as birth and death notices) are not publicly available. Records of any children named “Stevie” or “Steven” born in late 1960 or early 1961 to the mother, identified through genetic genealogy, were requested. The New Mexico records department discovered a birth certificate for “Steven Alexander Crawford”, born October 2, 1960, to the listed mother (not named here for privacy purposes) in Las Cruces, New Mexico. This was proof that a 2-year-old child named Stevie existed. After 58 years the Keene Creek baby Doe had a possible name: Steven “Stevie” Crawford.

Genetic testing and comparison to known relatives was the last piece in this complicated identification puzzle. The family member allowed an oral swab to be collected for Kinship Inference testing. Kinship testing provides highly accurate inferences about the familial relationship between two people based on their DNA, even if they are distantly related. If accurate, this individual should share both autosomal DNA and X-chromosome DNA with the deceased child (since males only inherit their X-DNA from their mothers).

The Kinship Inference report was definitive; it stated that the deceased boy and the DNA donor shared2052.3 centimorgans [1] of autosomal DNA (atDNA) plus 169.7centimorgans of X-Chromosome DNA (X-DNA). This amount of shared DNA is most consistent with a second-degree relationship (92% probability) which includes half-siblings. The genetic evidence, with a high degree of statistical accuracy, corroborated the abundant circumstantial evidence provided by Parabon Nanolabs and the genetic genealogy report that the living relative was, in fact, the half-brother of the little boy now named Stevie Crawford.

Based on the totality of the evidence (both genetic and circumstantial), Jackson County Sheriff’s Office notified the next-of-kin and will plan on working to release Stevie Crawford to his family. This case represents a remarkable amount of persistence and inter-agency collaboration throughout 3 generations of Jackson County Sheriff’s Office detectives, Jackson County medico-legal Death Investigators, Oregon State Police, the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the FBI, DNA Labs International, and Parabon Nanolabs. The National Institute of Justice grant awarded to Dr. Nici Vance and the OSME’s Office has given us the powerful ability to assist all Oregon agencies, big and small, with the resolution of their cold case mysteries.

Source: Oregon State Police

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