CLACKAMAS COUNTY, OR (KPTV) - Cold case detectives in 2020 are asking this question: What happened to 19-year-old Wanda Ann Herr more than 40 years ago?
The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office is seeking the public’s help and sharing new information about a cold case investigation that has spanned decades in Oregon.
The case began on Aug. 2, 1986 when two U.S. Forest Service workers discovered a partial skull, several bone fragments and a human tooth off Highway 26 near Government Camp.
An Oregon State Police forensic examiner determined the skull had likely been in the woods for around 10 years.
Few other details were determined, except that the skull likely came from a woman in her 20s or a small man.
The case was mostly dormant until 2008, when the skull was re-examined by the state forensic anthropologist with Oregon State Police and DNA analysis was conducted at the University of North Texas. The result was a refined victim description – a female in her late teens to early 20s – and a number of new tips, but no solid leads.
In 2017, a sketch and physical reconstruction were released to the public in hopes of generating new leads.
The case stayed cold, until 2019.
In January 2019, the Oregon State Medical Examiner's Office received National Institute of Justice grant funds to perform forensic genetic genealogy and DNA phenotyping on 100 unidentified human skeletal remains cases.
DNA phenotyping predicts the physical appearance and ancestry of an unknown person from their DNA. Genetic genealogy can help identify an unknown person by searching for relatives in public databases and building family trees, according to detectives.
The Government Camp skull was among those sent out for the grant-funded investigation. Deputies said it was also the first to produce a major finding.
NEW DETAILS, IDENTIFICATION
The intensive genetic analysis revealed far more detail about the subject: The skull belonged to a female of Northern European descent with fair skin, hazel/brown eyes, brown hair, and some freckles.
These new details, combined with extensive genealogical research, soon revealed a likely name for the young woman: Wanda Ann Herr, born in 1957.
Detectives obtained Wanda's birth certificate and contacted her surviving sisters. Further DNA testing with the cooperation of the sisters confirmed the partial skull was that of Wanda Herr.
Investigators said Herr is believed to have disappeared sometime after June 1976. She was 19 years old at the time and may have been living in a group home in the Gresham area.
Herr was not raised in the same home as her sisters, so information about her remains scarce.
Detectives, based on interviews, believe Herr was a chronic runaway, however there are no police reports that mention her name. Herr also had no DMV record and no bank account.
A photo was given to detectives, taken when Herr was 12 years old, seven years before her disappearance. It has been released by detectives as part of the ongoing investigation.
Cold case detectives continue working to piece together more of Herr’s background and story, including what led to her disappearance and death.
Detectives want to talk with anyone who knew or met Herr in the 1970s. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office at 503-723-4949 or https://www.clackamas.us/sheriff/tip and reference case 86-025724.
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