Investigators solve the mystery of Oregon's oldest unidentified person case

The body of a young boy was discovered in the mountains east of Ashland in July of 1963. Now, 58 years later, investigators have found his identity.

Posted: Jun 28, 2021 3:43 PM
Updated: Jun 30, 2021 12:50 PM

ASHLAND, Ore. — The nearly 60-year-old mystery of an unidentified boy found dead in the mountains east of Ashland has at last been solved, the Jackson County Sheriff's Office announced on Monday.

In July of 1963, 65-year-old Roy E. Rogers of Rogue River set out to fish in the Keene Creek Reservoir along Greensprings Highway east of Ashland. While out there, Rogers discovered the concealed body of a 2-year-old boy — found wrapped in layers of blankets, bound with wire, and weighted down with iron molds.

The investigation into the unidentified boy was undertaken by the Jackson County Sheriff's Office, but there would be no break in the case for decades. Over the next 58 years, almost two dozen Sheriffs, detectives and deputies worked on the case with help from the Oregon State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

An initial autopsy done shortly after the body's discovery did not produce a clear cause of death. According to the Sheriff's Office, the case almost immediately went cold, and files were archived in August of 1963, remaining that way for almost 45 years.

In 2007, JCSO detective Sgt. Colin Fagan found 11 paper boxes marked "old Sheriff cases," and he delegated special investigator Jim Tattersal to sort through them for possible follow-up. It was Tattersal who found the Keene Creek Case and decided to revive it.

In August of 2008, investigators exhumed the small body from Hillcrest Memorial Park cemetery to take a DNA sample, but the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) didn't return any matches. In 2010, the the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) created a composite image using the extracted DNA.

JCSO said that a "big break" in the case came in December 2020, when the agency received a tip through its Facebook inbox. Sheriff Nathan Sickler tasked deputy Medical Examiner Christian Adams to take up the investigation.

Adams worked with Dr. Nici Vance, coordinator of OSP's Human Identification Program, and submitted a DNA sample of the unidentified child to contractor Parabon NanoLabs with the idea of using phenotyping and genetic genealogy to narrow in on an identity.

Parabon took the DNA sample and used it to search GEDMatch, the same open-source genealogy repository used to find the Golden State Killer. Chief genetic genealogist Cece Moore found two potential siblings of the unidentified child, eventually securing an interview with a maternal half-brother in Ohio.

The half-brother told investigators that he had a sibling born with Down syndrome in New Mexico who later went missing. A birth certificate finally confirmed the child's name — Stevie Crawford, born October 2, 1960. All potential suspects in Crawford's death are deceased, a JCSO spokesperson said.

JCSO said that, beyond the core investigators, a number of people were integral in helping to identify Crawford, many of them offering time and effort for free. Hillcrest Memorial Park cemetery’s Jed Ramey donated the work for the 2008 exhumation, while East Main Dental Center's Dr. Gregory Pearson and Dr. Hal Borg donated time and service for the dental identification process, which revealed signs of congenital defects. University of Oregon forensic anthropologist Dr. Jeanne Mclaughlin donated her time and efforts to skeletonize the remains for analysis and DNA extraction, JCSO said.

The agency also offered thanks to its own detectives, who logged many unpaid hours in attempting to identify Crawford, including Sgt. Fagan, detective Tim Pike, and special investigator Tattersal.

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