Remains of U.S. Marine captain from Palmyra identified using investigative genetic genealogy


This photo of Capt. Everett Leland Yager appeared in the Palmyra Spectator newspaper on Dec. 20, 1944. | Photo courtesy of Ramapo College

MAHWAH, N.J. — U.S. Marine Corps Captain Everett Leland Yager died in a military training exercise in July 1951. His remains were recovered in the Riverside County (Calif.) area and buried in Palmyra, Mo. 

At least they were thought to have been. 

Fast forward years later to a child who wanted to build a rock collection. The child increased the collection by during a scavenging exploration, presumably in Arizona, but it was not a rock. It was a human jawbone.

For the time being, the bone belonged to Rock Collection John Doe.

According to a press release from Ramapo College in Mahwah, N.J., the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office and Yavapai County Medical Examiner referred the case in January 2023 to the Ramapo College Investigative Genetic Genealogy Center. The North Texas Center for Human Identification sent in May the extract from Rock Collection John Doe to Intermountain Forensics in Salt Lake City, Utah, where whole genome sequencing and bioinformatics were performed. A profile was developed and uploaded to GEDmatch Pro and FamilyTreeDNA.

Students in the Ramapo College IGG Bootcamp worked on the case in July. It took them, along with IGG Center intern Ethan Schwartz, fewer than two days to produce a candidate lead, which was then handed over to the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office. A DNA sample was taken in August from the daughter of Capt. Yager to directly compare to the jawbone profile.

It was not until March 2024 that the DNA sample from Capt. Yager’s daughter confirmed a parent/child relationship, resolving the case and confirming that Rock Collection John Doe was indeed Capt. Yager.

No one is quite sure how the jawbone ended up in Arizona, since the accident took place in the air over California. One theory is that a scavenger, such as a bird, picked it up and eventually deposited it during its travels over Arizona. Plans are being made to reunite the remains with the family.

This is the first case resolution performed by the IGG’s summer boot camp student cohort.

“This case was a lesson in expecting the unexpected, and a testament to the power of IGG education at Ramapo College of New Jersey,” said Cairenn Binder, assistant director of the Ramapo College IGG Center. “The team that worked on this case at our IGG bootcamp included some truly outstanding researchers, and we are so proud of them for helping to repatriate Captain Yager’s remains and return them to his family.”

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