Body found in Columbia River in 1998 identified 24 years later using forensic genealogy

Michael E. Johnson
Michael E. Johnson(Kathy Bergen/Clark County Medical Examiner's Office)
Published: Jan. 17, 2023 at 12:46 PM PST
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CLARK COUNTY, Wash. (KPTV) - A body that was found in the Columbia River 24 years ago has been identified thanks to forensic genealogy, the Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office announced Tuesday.

The body of an unidentified man was found on Oct. 26, 1998 in the Columbia River near Lower River Road in Vancouver.

A DNA sample from the remains was submitted to a laboratory in Virginia, which then used the DNA to predict the unidentified person’s ancestry and compared it to individuals in online genealogy databases that allow searches of unidentified persons. A forensic genealogist at the lab found an ancestral link to a family from California.

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The medical examiner’s office said that while there were multiple possibilities, the forensic genealogist noted that one person, a son of Chesley Johnson Jr. and Ruth Marie Hansen, appeared to have no traceable activities since 1998.

In Oct. 2022, other children of the couple, Russel Johnson and Kathy Bergen, were contacted and indicated their brother, Michael E. Johnson, had left California over 20 years ago and had no contact with family.

Based on the results of the forensic genealogical analysis, DNA analysis and circumstantial evidence in the case, the medical examiner’s office concluded the unidentified man found in 1998 was Michael E. Johnson, who was believed to have been 53 years old at the time of his death.

According to the medical examiner’s office, Johnson’s cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head and his manner of death is undetermined.

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Law enforcement has no information on Johnson’s activities or travels leading up to the recovery of his body. Anyone with information about Johnson can contact Vancouver Police Department Major Crimes Unit Sgt. Patrick Moore at 360-487-7440.