Nearly 12 years after a Penticton, B.C., man disappeared, his remains have been identified in Washington State thanks to DNA profiling.
James Neufeld, 55, disappeared in January 2009 and was last seen leaving his Okanagan home in his green 1997 Plymouth Voyager passenger van.
Thirteen days later, his vehicle was discovered under the Alexandria Bridge near the Fraser River, but Neufeld was nowhere to be seen.
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In May 2009, a body was pulled from the waters of the Salish Sea off of Parker Reef, north of Orcas Island, in San Juan County in Washington.
Anthropologic and forensic testing was done on the human remains, but the person could not be identified.
More than a decade later, in September 2020, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office decided to take another look at the case. This time, an attempt to establish a DNA profile was successful.
The medical examiner worked with the BC Coroners Service’s special identifications section to positively identify the remains as Neufeld.
At first, I was confident we would find his identity and family right away, said San Juan County coroner Randall Gaylord.
He said his office was frustrated when the case went cold, but thankful for that fresh look by Jane Jorgensen at the medical examiner’s office.
Ms. Jorgensen recognized that DNA record-keeping has improved and it would be worthwhile to renew our search in Canada, Gaylord said.
The Salish Sea crosses political borders and when people are found near the boundary we enjoy the cooperation with the BC Coroners Service and RCMP.
Eric Petit, director of special investigations with the BC Coroners Service, said the team is “pleased” to bring closure to Neufeld’s family.
RCMP said the case highlights cross-border cooperation among Canadian and U.S. authorities and the dedication of investigators.
We were comforted and humbled by James’ family, when we delivered the news in person, who believe this will bring hope to other families who continue to search for a loved one, said Supt. Ray Carfantan with the BC RCMP Southeast District.
RCMP believe Neufeld’s remains ended up in the Salish Sea after being swept downstream in the Fraser River.
“We do not believe that criminality was involved in his unexpected death,” said Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey.
U.S. officials say the forensic examination was consistent with drowning followed by traveling a long distance in turbulent water.