JOSEPHINE COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) – The fully skeletonized remains of a woman discovered in 1986 has been identified using investigative genetic genealogy in Josephine County, authorities say.

Josephine County Sheriff’s Office and the Oregon State Medical Examiner say they solved the decades-old cold case of Elsie Marie Baker using a modern tool called Parabon NanoLabs.

According to Oregon State Police, Parabon NanoLabs provided a “DNA Phenotyping Report, where genetic material is used to determine eye color, hair color, skin color, and the ancestry of the deceased.”

Baker’s body was first discovered on June 19, 1986, in a shallow 4-foot-deep grave on a private property in Grants Pass while the homeowner was excavating the area for a new septic system. 

The owner, who purchased the property in 1974, said there had always been a depression where he eventually dug and discovered the body.

According to officials, the body had been found with “fabric thought to be from a dress, a worn set of dentures, and two rubber stopper-like implements (determined to be the ends of crutches or a walker).”

An anthropologist by the name of Dr. John Lundy determined the woman had been buried for 15-25 years and that she died of advanced age, which he identified through her noticeable degenerative joint disease and the wear on the dentures discovered with her body.

Josephine County Sheriff’s Office says their department investigated the case for 29 years while Baker’s remains were held in storage. Bacteria degradation proved other attempts with modern DNA unsuccessful until the office’s partnership with Parabon NanoLabs in 2018.

In 2020, Parabon NanoLabs successfully analyzed Baker’s DNA – more than 30 years after her discovery.

Here is Elise Baker’s story, as told by Oregon State Police:

Elsie and her husband Frank moved from Idaho to Jackson, Oregon by 1950 and are confirmed to have lived in Rogue River Precinct 77. Elsie disappeared at some point after May of 1955; no death record was found for Elsie and family trees list her date of death as ambiguous, “September or October 1955”. According to the Medford Mail Tribune, Frank filed for divorce from Elsie in May of 1955, and the divorce was granted in June of 1956. Frank went on to die in November 1958.

It was also reported that Elsie received treatment for cancer on June 13, 1959, at the Josephine General Hospital in Grants Pass, Oregon. If true, then her disappearance must have been shortly after June 13, 1959. That year, police interviewed a nurse assigned to Elsie’s care during that time; the nurse stated Elsie had gone to live with family out-of-state, leading investigators to believe she was still alive.

In 1960 a newspaper article was published regarding Elsie Baker, and the concern her friends had about the suspicious nature of her disappearance. There were no out-of-state relatives identified as being Elsie’s caregivers. The interviews of family and friends state that Elsie was last seen in 1959.

This front-page article in the Medford Mail Tribune reads in part: “Mrs. Elsie Marie Campbell, a slight little woman with tinted red hair, was last seen around her home at 4890 South Pacific Highway, Grants Pass, sometime between June 6 and June 13, 1959. State police know she couldn’t have left unassisted, since she was unable to move without her wheelchair. Yet her wheelchair was found in her home.

Officers know, too, that about $10,000 she had in her home just before her disappearance is missing.”

The article also reports that Elsie’s niece came to Grants Pass to search for Elsie after she failed to visit the niece in Idaho in the summer of 1959, as had been planned, and had not been heard from since. The case was reopened after the niece reported Elsie’s disappearance to the Medford office of the Oregon State Police on September 1, 1960.

Elsie’s case was widely reported on, appearing in many Oregon newspapers, such as The Eugene Guard under the headline, “State Police Still Puzzled at Woman’s Disappearance” (9 Dec 1960, p.7) and on the front page of Coos Bay’s The World, “From Rogue River: Woman and $10,000 Missing a Year” (8 Dec 1960, p.1).

Elsie and Frank’s only known child had nine children of her own.

All nine of Elsie’s grandchildren were found through genealogy research, and appear to be living in Utah, New Mexico, and California areas.