PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Fifty years ago, Winston Arthur Maxey III left his home in Boise, Idaho at the age of 15 in search of a better life in Oregon. His family never heard from him again.
DNA technology has helped experts finally identify his body, which was found in Coos Bay just weeks after he left home, the Coos County Sheriff’s Office said.
Winston decided to hitchhike to the Oregon Coast in the spring of 1971 in search of job opportunities, authorities said. He told his sister he was headed for Coos Bay.
The family said they never learned if Winston had made it to the coast. It’s unclear if they reported him missing at the time.
In July of 1971, the body of a juvenile male was found in the Engelwood area of Snedden Creek in Coos Bay. The sheriff’s office said investigators worked to solve the case, but limited technology and the condition of the body worked against them. In the end, they were unable to figure out the boy’s name or cause of death and he was buried in a local cemetery.
“There isn’t anything to indicate any foul play like gunshot wounds, stab wound, blunt trauma, anything like that,” said Captain Gabe Fabrizio with the Coos County Sheriff’s Office. “It could be anything from exposure because he was found in water, to something more nefarious. We really don’t know what it was.”
The case remained open and, in 2017, authorities exhumed the remains so they could get a DNA sample. With the help of some grant money, the sample was registered through the NAMUS database and analyzed by Parabon Nanolabs.
Parabon was able to create a DNA profile in May of 2021. The profile didn’t provide a name, but it did reveal his ancestry, eye, skin and hair color, face structure and a composite profile, the sheriff’s office said. Two months later, detectives learned that the DNA matched a profile on a genealogy and ancestry website.
But investigators still needed to confirm the identity.
Coos County detectives contacted Winston’s family members and his sister provided a DNA sample. That sample finally confirmed the body belonged to Winston.
The sheriff’s office said Winston unknowingly fathered a child before leaving Idaho in 1971. The baby — a daughter — was given up for adoption. She grew up in Idaho and started looking for her biological parents when she turned 18. She discovered the name of her mother with the help of a private investigator. Through the mother, she learned her father’s name and started searching for him in earnest in 2016. She set up a Facebook page, filed an official missing person report and started working with local law enforcement officials.
“Thirty-two years after hiring the P.I. to try and find her biological parent, we were actually able to come back and say ‘this is actually your father that was here,'” said Fabrizio. “It would’ve been much better news if it was ‘he’s alive and happy and healthy’ — but at least it provided some closure.”
Winston’s daughter finally has some answers. But the details surrounding her father’s death remain a mystery.
Deputies said they’re working to return Winston’s remains to his family in Idaho.