Jawbone of U.S. Marine killed in 1951 found in boy’s rock collection, experts say

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Experts have confirmed that a human jaw that was mysteriously discovered in a boy's rock collection belonged to a US Marine who died in the line of duty more than 70 years ago. The identification was made thanks to the work of a group of university students and a high school intern who may be the youngest person to help solve a genetic genealogy case.

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Everett Leland Yager was killed in a military training exercise in July 1951, according to a press release issued this week by Ramapo College, the New Jersey institution where students performed tests on her jaw and eventually linked her to him. A separate statement from the university's Research Genetic Genealogy Center noted that the military exercise involved a plane crash, although it did not provide more details than that.

This image of US Marine Corps Capt. Everett Leland Yager appeared in the Palmyra Spectator newspaper on December 20, 1944.

Ramapo College


The crash that left Yager dead happened in California, and experts said his remains were later recovered in the state's Riverside County and buried in Palmyra, Missouri. At that time it was assumed that all the remains were recovered and buried. But decades later, in 2002, a human jawbone containing several teeth was presented to local law enforcement in northern Arizona, where the boy's parents believed their son had taken the bone. before mistakenly adding it to his rock collection.

The Yavapai County Sheriff's Office conducted basic DNA testing on the bone, officials said, although initial tests yielded no clues as to who the remains might belong to. With no samples in government databases matching the bone, his research into the remains labeled “Rock Collection John Doe” went on hiatus that would last more than 20 more years.

Yavapai County sheriff's and medical examiner investigators referred the unsolved case to the genetic genealogy center at Ramapo College in January 2023. With the help of a Texas laboratory specializing in missing and unidentified persons and a forensic lab in Utah, the jaw was given a genetic profile. which could then be added to online genealogy databases.

In July of that year, students participating in a bootcamp at the university, which focused on investigative genetic genealogy, had the opportunity to work on the case as part of their course. Along with an intern at the center who was still in high school, the group of college students developed a lead and sent their findings to the sheriff's office in Arizona. Finally, last March, evidence from a DNA sample from Yager's daughter was compared to the jaw sample, confirming the former Marine's identity.

“No one is quite sure how the jaw ended up in Arizona since the crash happened mid-air over California. One theory is that a scavenger, like a bird, picked it up and eventually deposited it during his travels through Arizona.” Ramapo College officials said in this week's news release.

The fellow who attended last summer's cohort of students, Ethan Schwartz, may be the youngest person to help solve a genetic genealogy research case, according to the release.



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