PORT ANGELES — A crowdfunding effort to pay for advanced DNA testing of a severed foot that washed ashore in December 2021 raised $7,500 and the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office could hear back from the Texas-based forensics company in about a month, said Detective Sgt. Brian Knutson.
Knutson said the company, Othram, will send the sheriff’s office DNA testing kits to be used on any potential matches to the foot.
“They do genealogical DNA testing and then compare that to 23andMe. If they find a possible match, then they let us know and we try to find a family member.
“Then we send the test back and they confirm or deny if it is a relative. It’s a pretty cool system that they have here. The advances in just the last five years is incredible,” he said.
The crowdfunding effort was launched on Jan. 11 and ended this week.
A genealogical DNA test is a used in genetic genealogy that looks at specific locations of a person’s genome to find or verify ancestral genealogical relationships, or (with lower reliability) to estimate the ethnic mixture of an individual.
The severed foot in the women’s size 8 New Balance tennis shoe was found by beachcombers at the mouth of the Elwha River.
“We have never done this before but have learned that law enforcement agencies working with private labs (which are expensive) are becoming more dependent on crowdfunding for these cold cases,” Sheriff Brian King wrote in an email.
Othram is an American corporation specializing in forensic genealogy to resolve unsolved murders, disappearances, and identification of unidentified decedents or murder victims. It was founded in 2018 in The Woodlands, Texas.
King said the company was brought to their attention by Guy Cranor, a former law enforcement officer who has been a special deputy and digital forensics analyst in the county’s Criminal Investigations Bureau since December 2017.
“With this case in particular case, we have some suspicions as to the origin of the foot we wanted to explore more in depth. That, coupled with our inability to get DNA typed in public labs due to back logs, is why we chose to explore other options,” King wrote in an email.
Kristen Mittelman is the chief development officer at Othram. She has a doctorate in biochemistry and molecular biology. She said Othram is the only company that identifies people from crime scenes versus medical or consumer cases.
The company’s employees are experts in the human genome and forensic grade genome sequencing techniques in the medical field, she said.
“Unfortunately, what was happening was evidence was getting destroyed. This is the last time for people to get justice or get their name back, so we built a lab with a forensic process that was robust and predictable,” Mittelman said.
Testing for the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System — known as CODIS – uses only 20 markers.
“We build a profile with hundreds and hundreds of markers, sixth cousins and fifth cousins, so we can pinpoint where you fit on your family tree,” Mittelman said.
Then law enforcement uploads the results to genealogical databases approved for law enforcement use to determine a match, she said.
The company’s database is known as DNASolve (https://dnasolves.com/), which often isn’t funded because the technology is so new, Mittelman said.
“It’s hard to get justice for someone unless you can identify them,” she said.
In August 2008, a black-sneaker-clad right foot was at the former Silver King Resort, about 30 miles west of Port Angeles. Another five shoe-clad feet ere discovered in 2007 and 2008 in the vicinity of the Strait of Georgia in British Columbia, Canada.
All of the six feet were disarticulated naturally, scientists have said. They appear to have separated naturally from their bodies while in the water. Four of the five found in Canada were right feet, like the one found near Pysht.
Anyone with information that could aid in this investigation is encouraged to contact the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office by calling the Tip Line at 360-417-2540 and referencing agency case 2021-00023819.
Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached at Brian.Gawley@ sound publishing.com