Decades-Long Mystery Solved: Arizona Child's Rock Collection Yields Jawbone of Fallen Marine Captain

Jawbone found in Arizona boy's rock collection in 2002 identified as belonging to U.S. Marine Captain Everett Leland Yager, who died in a plane crash in 1951. Advancements in DNA testing and genealogical research solved this 73-year-old mystery.

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Israel Ojoko
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73-Year-Old Mystery Solved: Marine's Jawbone Found in Arizona Child's Rock Collection

73-Year-Old Mystery Solved: Marine's Jawbone Found in Arizona Child's Rock Collection

In an extraordinary development, a human jawbone discovered in an Arizona child's rock collection in 2002 has been identified as belonging to U.S. Marine Captain Everett Leland Yager, who died in a plane crash during a military training exercise in California in 1951. The identification, made by researchers at the Investigative Genetic Genealogy Center at Ramapo College in New Jersey, comes 73 years after Yager's death at the age of 30.

The mystery began in 2002 when a mother in Arizona found the jawbone among her son's rock collection. She turned it over to the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office, but initial efforts to identify the remains were unsuccessful. It wasn't until 2023 that researchers at Ramapo College became involved in the case, applying advanced DNA testing and genealogical research to uncover the jawbone's origin.

Traditional DNA testing failed to yield results, prompting the team to employ state-of-the-art techniques such as whole-genome sequencing, conducted by Intermountain Forensics in Utah. The genetic profile obtained was then uploaded to public genealogy databases, where a group of students participating in a weeklong boot camp at the Ramapo College center made a vital discovery. They found a match that connected them to Captain Yager's daughter, whose DNA sample confirmed the identity of the jawbone.

Why this matters: The identification of Captain Yager's remains not only brings closure to his family but also highlights the advancements in DNA testing and genealogical research that are transforming the field of cold case investigations. This discovery emphasizes the potential for these techniques to solve long-standing mysteries and provide answers to families who have been seeking them for decades.

The circumstances surrounding the jawbone's journey from California to Arizona remain a mystery. Researchers speculate that a scavenger animal may have carried the remains to the location where they were eventually found. "The Sheriff's Office said Yager's family is grateful to everyone who helped bring closure to the case," the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office stated. The identification of Captain Yager's jawbone marks the first case resolution performed by the Investigative Genetic Genealogy Center's summer bootcamp student cohort, with the youngest contributor being an intern named Ethan Schwartz.

Key Takeaways

  • Jawbone found in 2002 in Arizona child's rock collection identified as U.S. Marine Captain Everett Yager.
  • Yager died in 1951 plane crash; identification made 73 years later by Ramapo College researchers.
  • Traditional DNA testing failed, prompting use of whole-genome sequencing and genealogy database search.
  • Identification provides closure to Yager's family and highlights advancements in cold case investigations.
  • Jawbone's journey from California to Arizona remains a mystery, possibly carried by a scavenger animal.