SPOKANE, Wash. – Spokane County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Veena Singh announced her office has officially identified a previously unidentified person. The individual identified, 28-year-old Bruce Frank Sherman, died from accidental drowning in the Spokane River and had been reported missing by his family in the early 1970’s. The breakthrough was made possible by an allocation of federal American Rescue Plan funds to the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office to help identify unidentified human remains using a forensic genetic genealogy tool.
On Sept. 2, 1971, a marina employee discovered a body in the Spokane River near the Division Street Bridge. The decedent appeared to be an adult male wearing jeans with a plain tattoo depicting the letters “BS” on his left forearm. Unfortunately, no personal belongings were found, and decomposition prevented visual identification. An examination by the Spokane County Coroner found no evident injuries and the death was determined to be an accidental drowning. Fingerprints taken by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Washington DC did not match any on file. No other resources were available at the time, so the decedent was buried at Fairmount Cemetery as an unidentified person.
In February 2007 the case was added to The Doe Network website (Case #1283UMWA), run by a public organization that works to assist investigating agencies by providing exposure and searching for matches between missing and unidentified persons cases. In June 2007 the case was added to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) (Case #UP338), a federal database used by law enforcement, medical examiners, and missing persons’ families across the country to track and investigate cases.
In August 2022, the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office (SCMEO) received an allocation of American Rescue Plan funds to help identify unidentified human remains using forensic genetic genealogy. Using these funds, the SCMEO sent a sample of the remains to Othram Inc, a company that specializes in extracting DNA from small and/or degraded samples. In November 2023, Othram used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to analyze the unknown man’s sample. A report of the decedent’s genetic network and biogeographical admixture (Amerindian and European) was returned to the SCMEO, and the DNA profile was uploaded to the genealogy databases GEDmatch and FamilyTree DNA. Death investigators for the SCMEO used the resulting investigative leads to confirm and contact the decedent’s genetic relatives, eventually reaching a brother and cousin who provided the name of a missing family member and details that aligned with this case.
A DNA sample from the brother was compared to a sample from the unknown man, confirming his genetic relationship with the decedent. With this information, Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Veena Singh officially identified the man as Bruce Frank Sherman.
Bruce was born in Itasca County, Minnesota on April 17th, 1943, and was a member of the Ojibwe Tribe from Deer River Minnesota. He moved to Washington state with extended family in his 20’s. He was known to have gone missing in the early 1970’s and was reported missing and searched for by his family, but there was no further information on the disappearance. Bruce was 28 years old at the time of his death.
The Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office would like to thank following individuals and organizations for their assistance in this case: GEDMatch/Verogen, FamilyTree DNA, NamUs, The Doe Network, Othram Inc, FBI, Fairmount Cemetery, and Bruce’s relatives for sharing their family history, and DNA to solve this 51-year mystery.