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The Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office recently confirmed the identity of Donna Lee Swindell, whose body was discovered in Hazel Dell on Nov. 6, 2004, although the cause of her death is still unknown.
Swindell was 57 years old, according to a news release from Clark County Communications.
Randon Walker, who was the homicide detective working the case when Swindell’s body was found, is now a death investigator for the medical examiner’s office who identified Swindell’s body, stated the release. He has notified her family.
“It was gratifying and sad,” said Walker in the release. “Sad that it had been this long.”
When working as a homicide detective, Walker was only able to identify Swindell’s approximate height, her approximate age which was between 45 and 55, and that she was a caucasian woman. Her DNA could not be found in any reference samples in the FBI’s DNA database. Walker chased whatever leads he could find, but they always led to a dead end, the release said.
After leaving the Clark County Sheriff’s Office to join the medical examiner’s office in May of 2018, Walker was assigned to the cold case and recognized the body from his work over a decade ago. The medical examiner’s office submitted the DNA to Bode Technology, a DNA laboratory in Virginia that can provide forensic genealogy services. The genealogist compared the DNA to individuals in online genealogy databases and found an ancestral link to two brothers, stated the release. A long list of Swindell’s possible parents was then formed.
Walker spent months crossing hundreds of names off the list while also working on other cold cases simultaneously, stated the release. The rising death toll in Clark County has grown faster than the population growth, leaving investigators with less time to work on cold cases. The release stated that from 2010 to 2020, the number of deaths investigated by the medical examiner’s office increased by 59%, while the county’s population increased by 17%.
“Anytime I had a moment, anytime I had a lead to run down, I was trying to reunite this woman with her family,” Walker said in the release.
He used government search engines, public ancestry websites, marriage records and death certificates to limit the names on the list. Eventually, that led him to Swindell. Walker learned that all the activity linked to her social security number stopped a few months before her body was discovered and her license hadn’t been renewed after November of 2004, the release said.
With the help of University of Oregon professor, Dr. Jeanne McLaughlin, Walker was able to track down possible relatives in Lane County, Oregon. McLaughlin gathered a DNA sample from a family member to compare in the medical examiner’s office, which proved to be a match. Swindell’s identity was then confirmed.
After 17 years, Walker and McLaughlin were able to return Swindell’s remains to her loved ones.
“Everybody deserves the human dignity of being cared for and returned to their family,” he said in the release.