1970 Skeletal remains found on Sauvie Island, Columbia County identified

February 27, 2024

On February 23, 1970, a Boy Scout leader on Sauvie Island in Columbia County, Oregon made a grisly discovery on the North end of the island, along Oak Island Road.

From a distance, he thought he saw a pile of discarded clothing, but as he got closer, he realized that he was looking at fully skeletonized human remains in a shallow grave.

The Longview Daily News reported on 26 February 1970 that the remains were identified as a Black female, with a height of 5’1” – 5’3”, around 19 - 20 years of age.

Scattered bones were discovered within a 30-foot radius of the grave site, as well as a bra and black curled wig. Police believed the grave may have been dug up by wild animals, and the remains scattered. There was no flesh on the body, with the exception of a line of flesh along the victim’s spine.

 The victim's skull had been fractured in three places, and a newspaper at the time reported that The Columbia County Sheriff's office and District Attorney at the time, Robert A. Lucas, had said, according to a crime lab report, these skull fractures had been made after death, possibly "by someone stepping on" the skull. Foul play was instantly suspected, and trauma to the remains was evident.

When asked how long they believed the remains had been buried on Sauvie Island, police at the time did not have a definite timeline, guessing anywhere from “a few months to several years ago,” they said.

The Black population in Columbia County was so few at the time, that investigators believed the  victim was likely from Portland or elsewhere.

Investigators had no clues to go on, and the case went unsolved for over 50 years.

In 2004 there was movement in an attempt to identify the Sauvie Island Doe after her remains were relocated to the state medical examiner facility in Clackamas County, where various samples were taken and sent to the University of North Texas Center for human identification. A DNA profile was created and entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) - a computer software program that operates local, state, and national databases of DNA profiles from convicted offenders, unsolved crime scene evidence, and missing persons. Unfortunately, CODIS did not offer any links to the victim.

In 2018, a National Institute of Justice grant was given to the Oregon State Police Medical Examiner’s Office and as a result, Parabon NanoLabs, a company based in Reston, Virginia, that develops nanopharmaceuticals and provides DNA phenotyping services for law enforcement organizations, created a DNA Snapshot report to determine what features, hair colour, and eye colour, the victim may have had. The report detailed that Jane Doe was of West African, South African and Northern European descent, and that she had black hair, brown eyes, and dark skin.

By 2021, Parabon NanoLabs had generated an image of what the Sauvie Island Doe may have looked like, which was circulated online in the hope that someone would recognize her.

It wasn’t until early 2023 when a relative of the victim uploaded their own DNA into GEDMatch which alerted genetic genealogists on the case, who swiftly contacted the party. Other family members were asked to upload their own DNA samples to help with the investigation.

From there, the painstaking process of developing multiple family trees and investigating relatives of Jane Doe commenced, until investigators finally had a name- Sandra Young.

Sandra “Sandy” Young was last seen in Portland around the late 1960s, a year or two before the skeletal remains were discovered on Sauvie Island in Columbia County.

She had been missing since around 1968, when she was no older than eighteen, and her family and friends had not seen her since.

After Jane Doe was finally identified as Sandra Young, surviving relatives were able to provide more information about her, including that she was born June 25, 1951, and was a student at Grant High School. A black and white photograph of Sandra has been published by various media outlets and shows a bright-eyed, pretty teenager smiling.

Young’s sisters revealed in interviews with police that their family had suffered other losses, and that not long after losing Sandra, she had also lost another sister to gun violence.

Although Sandra Young has been given back her name, the nature of how she died and what happened to her remains unknown. Investigators have urged  the Portland Police Bureau to continue investigating Sandra’s death.

Sandra’s nephew, Lorikko Burkett Gibbs, told KOIN Portland News: “It’s very emotional. It’s very messed up. I know it’s still being investigated, but I think there needs to be more investigation about this.

He added: “The person who did this needs to pay for what they’ve done. She will never, ever be forgotten about.”

Sources: [X][X][X][X]

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