Three men were walking through a railroad tunnel in 1980 when they came across a body, police in Washington said.
Now, DNA testing has helped identity the remains 43 years later as 56-year-old Donald Leroy Pearson, the Spokane Police Department said in a June 2 news release.
His body was discovered in Spokane in January 1980 with burn marks and significant head trauma, police said. Officials ruled his death a homicide because of his “traumatic injuries and smoke inhalation.”
But authorities were unable to identify the body because he didn’t have any identification on him at the time. He also didn’t match any missing persons descriptions, police said.
An autopsy was done and fingerprints were taken, but they didn’t help identify the man, so he was buried as a John Doe in February 1980 in Fairmount Memorial Park.
Investigators followed up on leads and gathered more evidence, police said, but the case later went cold.
Then the body was exhumed in October 2022 after the county medical examiner’s office got a grant to help identify human remains through genetic genealogy.
A DNA profile was collected and sent to Othram, a lab in The Woodlands, Texas.
The lab found leads of potential relatives, including Pearson’s son in Missouri.
Once the son sent his DNA, Othram confirmed the body belonged to his father in April.
Pearson was born in 1924 in Nebraska, and “many of his known addresses are in the Midwest,” police said.
He wasn’t present in his children’s lives, police said, and his siblings have died.
Police ask that anyone who knew Pearson contact 509-456-2233.
“This cold case remains open with SPD but few leads to the suspect exist,” police said.