A man who went missing during during a flood on the John Day River nearly 60 years ago, and whose remains were found 34 years ago, has been positively identified, Oregon State Police said Monday.
The man has been identified as David West Jr.
Oregon State Police said the investigation started on March 26, 1989 when the remains of a skeletonized human body were discovered by a rafting group on the Sherman County side of the John Day River. The Sherman County Sheriff’s Office, led by then-Sheriff Gerald Lohrey, recovered the remains the next day about 13 miles east of Wasco.
“In addition to many long bones that had been half-buried in silt on the riverbank, a skull was collected with dental work,” OSP said in a press release.
The image above is of Lohrey holding the skull.
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It was determined the body was that of a white man, between 40 and 50 years old and around 5-feet 6-inches to 5-feet 9-inches tall. The examination of the remains included signs of some dental restorations.
During the investigation, leads were collected that included information that West Jr. had tried to cross the John Day River during a large flood in 1964. OSP said West, Jr. had lived on a ranch near Bridge Creek and was known to cross the John Day often.
“He and a friend had even built a makeshift cable car across the river to assist in quickly navigating the waters back and forth over the John Day,” OSP said. “The day the John Day River flooded in 1964, Mr. West was thought to be feeding cattle near Ashwood, Oregon. A friend went to check on him and saw that the cable car had been washed away, the large tree that had held the cable was uprooted, and Mr. West’s dog was injured and agitated on the bank of the river. David West Jr. was never seen or heard from again.”
Although West’s dentist was consulted in 1989, there was no conclusive identification made, OSP said.
In 2010, the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office (SMEO) sent a bone sample to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification where it was processed to obtain a forensic DNA sample.
Then in 2022, SMEO submitted another bone sample to Othram, which OSP said is a private DNA lab specializing in advanced forensic DNA testing. Ultimately, the analysis revealed the name of two biological relatives of West Jr.
Oral swab samples were obtained from one of the relatives. Othram then confirmed the genetic association in September 2022, OSP said.
“We are very excited that such an old case was able to be solved. It is amazing what our forensic teams can accomplish with modern technology. This was a case that was a mystery for generations here at the Sherman County Sheriff’s Office. I’m happy that the family of the deceased finally has closure.” said Sherman County Sheriff Brad Lohrey, son of former Sheriff Gerald Lohrey.