Snohomish County identifies 'Stilly Doe' 40 years later through DNA as man born in 1898

The Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office has finally learned the identity of a man found along the Stillaguamish River in Arlington over 40 years ago. 

Known as "Stilly Doe," the man's remains were found on July 23, 1980 by a fly fisherman near the Stillaguamish River, half a mile from Interstate 5.

On Sept. 29, 2022, Dr. J. Matthew Lacy officially identified "I-5 Stilly Doe" as Othaniel Philip Ames, born on Aug. 23, 1898 and died sometime in 1980.

In an autopsy, it was revealed that Ames was likely around 60 years old, and was suffering from coronary heart disease. However, family confirmed that he was 82 years old when he went missing in 1980. 

But, this isn’t what killed him. In fact, his cause of death is still unknown, as investigators believe he was in the water for around three months before he was found, significantly affecting his remains.

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Portrait of Othaniel Philip Ames

The only other clues were in his clothing: oxford shoes, a red flannel, and a leather belt with the letters G-R-N on the buckle, possibly his initials. No missing persons report has ever matched his description. 

Timeline of Ames' identification

  • In December 2017, Ames was exhumed and named "I-5 Stilly Doe.
  • In September 2018, a section of Ames' femur was sent to the University of North Texas Health Sciences Center for DNA extraction. A sample was successfully obtained and uploaded to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) in March 2019. Unfortunately, no matches were made as a result.
  • From 2018 to 2021, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office (SCMEO) Investigators, primarily Jane Jorgensen, ruled out numerous reported missing persons via circumstances, DNA comparisons, and dental comparisons.
  • In 2021, SCMEO began collaborating with Othram, Inc. to obtain advanced DNA profiles suitable for genetic genealogy. fully funded the laboratory work by Othram. In July 2021, Othram successfully obtained a suitable DNA extract after multiple rounds of extraction and human enrichment.

About Ames

Ames moved to Washington in 1951 at the age of 53 with his wife and children. He worked at a paper mill and had a small dairy farm in Arlington. He was also a woodworker and a winemaker. In the early 1960s, Amesl and his wife separated. He moved to a small cabin in the woods of Arlington. He was last known alive in early 1980, after telling relatives he was traveling to Oregon and California to visit relatives.

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Photo from the Ames family

The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office has four additional sets of unidentified remains that they will work to identify.