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Investigative genetic genealogy leads to identification of John Doe found near Copper Mountain in 2016

Copper Mtn John Doe.jpg
Posted at 10:54 AM, Sep 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-12 13:39:26-04

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. — Remains found in Ten Mile Canyon near Copper Mountain in 2016 have been identified, thanks to years of investigative genetic genealogy.

The DNA Doe Project, a nonprofit that uses genealogy research to identity John Does and Jane Does, worked alongside the Summit County Coroner’s Office to identify the man, who was found in the Sky Chutes along Ten Mile Canyon.

On Monday morning, the nonprofit announced the man had been identified as Jeffery Lee Peterson, who was 57 years old at the time of his death.

Peterson's body was found July 10, 2016 by hikers who were exploring a heavily wooded area in an avalanche chute near Copper Mountain, the nonprofit said.

About a month later, on Aug. 3, 2016, authorities found more skeletal remains and personal items on the area. Authorities found a Glock .45 handgun and a backpack with hiking gear and clothing. A water bottle and tube of Blistex were also found near the body. The Blistex had a manufacture date of 2012, leading authorities to believe he may have died in 2012, the DNA Doe Project said. Later, they determined this was not accurate.

Cold No More: How genetic genealogy is solving Colorado's cold cases

He did not have any kind of identification on him. The serial number on the gun was destroyed.

The man's skull was damaged in a way that authorities said was consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

READ MORE: Cold No More: How genetic genealogy is helping solve Colorado’s cold cases

Based on a forensic pathologist's findings, the man was described as white, between 30 and 50 years old, and had strawberry blonde hair.

In August 2017, the Summit County Coroner's Office released a three-dimensional reconstruction of the man’s face in hopes somebody would recognize him.

After about two years of investigative genetic genealogy, he was identified as Peterson.

The coroner's office said he was never reported missing to local law enforcement or authorities in Summit County.

“Our dedicated team built a research tree made from distant cousins that led us into Norway, Sweden, and Poland. None of the DNA matches shared any common ancestors which made our hunt that much more difficult,” said DNA Doe Project team leader Missy Koski. “We knew we had found the right man in our tree when some old-fashioned Y-DNA research was combined with some new-fashioned research using DNA segment tools. This combination led our team to determine that we should be looking for a man with a Scandinavian father and a West Slavic mother.”