Man identified in 20-year-old Ridgefield cold case


A man found dead in Ridgefield 20 years ago has been identified following an investigation using genealogy and DNA evidence.

On Sept. 27, the Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office announced it had confirmed James Orin Johnson Sr. as the previously unidentified person discovered on Jan. 13, 2002. The confirmation followed several months of investigating potential family members which eventually discovered the children, brother and former wife of Johnson who assisted in identifying their relative.

The medical examiner’s office sent a DNA sample from Johnson’s remains to Bode Technology, a forensic laboratory in Virginia, which specializes in extracting DNA from difficult samples, a release from the office announcing the identity confirmation stated. The company used the sample to predict Johnson’s ancestry and compared it to online genealogy databases that allow searches of unidentified individuals.

The company found a link to two sisters born in Oregon in the mid-1800s, the release stated. They then compiled a list of distant relatives for the medical examiner’s office to use in the case.

Christine Holroyd, an investigator with the county’s medical examiner’s office, contacted potential family members for months to find a link to the remains. Holroyd worked on the cold case between her work on current cases, the release stated. Death investigations have outpaced population growth in Clark County, increasing by nearly 60% between 2012 to 2021 compared to a population increase of about 19%.

The examiner’s office’s operations manager Nikki Costa met with a descendent of the two sisters, Arlene Zumwalt, in May, according to the release. Zumwalt agreed to provide DNA to use as a reference sample to narrow down which branch of the family tree to search.

The examiner’s office brought that reference sample to Bode Technology whose forensic genealogists analyzed it. The release stated the company determined the unidentified man was likely the biological son of Judith Cox Johnson in August.

Bode Technology noted Judith Johnson’s son, James, “appeared to have no traceable activities since mid-2001,” the release stated.

Costa found the children and brother of Johnson, the release stated. His son, Jaccob, confirmed the family had not heard from Johnson in more than 20 years.

In 2003, Candy Hallenger, Johnson’s former wife, hired a private investigator to find Johnson, the release stated. For two decades, his family wondered about his whereabouts.

Johnson’s son, James Jr., uploaded his DNA profile to GEDmatch, a website that allows users to opt in to law enforcement searches during genetic genealogy investigations. Bode Technology forensic genealogists determined the two samples matched a parent-child relationship, the release stated.

Clark County Chief Medical Examiner Martha Burt concurred the remains were that of James Johnson Sr.

“This great work by our team helped to provide a family with answers they had been waiting 20 years to receive,” Burt said. “The Medical Examiner’s Office is committed to finding the names of all unidentified decedents in Clark County.”

Costa met with Johnson’s son Jaccob and his wife, Kathryn; daughter Catreena and his former wife Hallenger on Sept. 17 to walk through the case, the release stated. Costa said the case was one of the most rewarding experiences of her career.

“Jaccob gave me a hug that communicated so much. I will remember it for the rest of my days,” Costa said.

“The medical examiner’s office encourages people to consider uploading their DNA profiles from other direct-to-consumer genealogy companies to databases (like GEDmatch) and opting-in to public searches,” the release stated. “Doing so can help bring names to the unidentified, provide closure to their families, and help law enforcement identify perpetrators of violent crime.”


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