Cold case victim identified using DNA from hair sample: Precious Jane Doe

April 02, 2022

On August 14, 1977, blackberry pickers in Snohomish County, Everett, Washington, made a shocking discovery. Amongst the brambles they found the body of a young woman decomposing in the summer heat, her face unrecognizable due to several gunshot wounds to the head.

Autopsy would later reveal that she had been strangled with a ligature and shot multiple times in the head before being discarded in the bushes. It was estimated that she had been killed a few days earlier but decomposed quickly in the heat. She was white and initially estimated to have been around 15 – 22 years old, standing at 5”10 and weighing 155lbs.  

The young woman had no I.D on her, nor anything that would aid the local police in discovering her identity. She had a half-smoked pack of Marlboro cigarettes and some loose change in her pockets and that was it. Despite the lack of clues, great efforts were made to identify the victim and return her to her loved ones, but a clay bust made in her likeness and artists impressions generated over the years lead nowhere.

While she waited for her real name to return to her, she was given a temporary name by the Snohomish police department: Precious Jane Doe.

Precious Doe was buried in Cypress Lawn cemetery in 2008 but her remains would soon be disturbed and exhumed for testing. A DNA sample was obtained from her femur but frustratingly turned up no results. Her fingerprints also turned up no matches. 

The file on Precious Doe contained, along with the few possessions found on her body, a sample of hair. There have been little to no cases of this sort solved using DNA obtained from a hair sample, but Detective Jim Scharf, who had taken over the case in the 2000’s, was determined to solve Snohomish Counties oldest cold case no matter what it took. Attempt after attempt was made to take a DNA sample from the victim’s hair and although it took over 24 months and a team of genealogists working for free, a worthy sample was finally obtained. That sample was then entered into several public databases and the painstaking process of creating a family tree that would ultimately lead to Precious Doe’s identity began.

Finally, after 43 years, Precious Doe got her name back and was identified as Elizabeth Ann Roberts, or Lisa, as her family called her.

Cold case victim identified using DNA from hair sample: Precious Jane Doe


Elizabeth Roberts ran away from her hometown in Roseburg, Oregon, in the summer of 1977. The last contact she had with her family was via a phone call she made to her mother, wherein she asked for money. Her worried mother begged her to return home but Lisa, who was 400 miles away in Everett, gave an open-ended answer: “I’ll think about it” she said.

The teenagers mother sent the money, which Elizabeth would then take out from a bank in the area, however the money was never withdrawn.

Elizabeth, dressed in a striped tank top, jeans and blue baseball sneakers, was thumbing for a ride along the Bothell-Everett highway when David Marvin Roth spotted her from over the dash of his Chevy Nova. He stopped and picked up the seventeen-year-old girl and they drove to a nearby store to pick up a pack of beer they planned to drink in a secluded area nearby. Roth was not much older than Elizabeth, he was twenty at the time, just three years her senior but he looked older. Old enough to buy the alcohol without getting I.D’d.

The pair sat down and began drinking the beer and conversing but it was not long before David Roth began making sexual advances towards his new acquaintance. Elizabeth rejected him, which angered Roth. The two shared a strange moment where he offered her a large peacock feather as a gift before he wrapped a bungee cord around her neck and dragged her into the nearby forest. Roth then took out a Marlin .22 Calibre rifle and fired several shots directly into Elizabeth’s head until they were all expended. Blackberry pickers would find her body a few days later on March 13.

David Roth was arrested for driving under the influence the day before Elizabeth’s body was found.  He was walking around a free man when the blackberry pickers made the gruesome discovery and he would not be arrested for the murder until two years later. He confessed to the killing of a female hitchhiker to a friend of his, who had in turn reported him to the local authorities who began to build a case.

David Roth served his time for the murder and upon his release, began helping investigators with finding his victims identity of his own free will.

Although he seemed to become agitated when pressed about the details of the day that he murdered Precious Doe he attempted to provide investigators with details about the female. He claimed that he did not get her name and that she never asked for his. He said he believed she was around 30 years old, “she had eye wrinkles” he said. He added that she may have been right-handed as she smoked with her right hand and that she did not have a distinct accent and did not seem educated. His cooperation did not lead investigators to Lisa's identity but it was the first time officers had a perpetrator selflessly assist them. Roth claims that he is rehabilitated and worked hard to turn his life around while serving out his sentence for the murder. 

 Sources: [X][X][X][X]


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