Human remains found 11 years ago identified as Penticton man

DNA solves 11-yr mystery

An 11-year mystery has been solved through DNA technology, positively identifying human remains discovered in Washington state in 2009 as a Penticton man who disappeared in January of that year. 

Jim (James) Neufeld, 55, was last seen leaving his home in Penticton on Jan. 21, 2009. His 1997 Plymouth Voyager passenger van was found under the Alexandra Bridge near the Fraser River on Feb. 3 by Hope RCMP. 

On May 23, the remains of a man were pulled from the Salish Sea off Parker Reef, one mile north of Orcas Island in San Juan County in Washington. The Snohomish County medical examiner conducted anthropological and forensic studies, but the remains could not be identified, despite efforts to trace a metal plate to hospitals, pull a DNA profile and develop a sketch. 

But a renewed effort in Sept. 2020 to establish a DNA profile proved successful. 

"At first I was confident we would find his identity and family right away," said San Juan country coroner Randall Gaylord. He said his office was frustrated when the case went cold, but thankful that a fresh look by Jane Jorgensen at the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office was successful. 

"Ms. Jorgensen recognized that DNA record keeping has improved and it would be worthwhile to renew our search in Canada. 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," Gaylord said.

Eric Petit, director of the Special Investigations Unit of the BC Coroners Service, is similarly pleased, explaining he is happy that they were able to help bring closure to the family. 

"This case highlights not only the international, multi-agency cooperation that takes place between Canadian and US officials daily for cross border matters, but showcases the sheer dedication of our investigators in bringing answers to James Neufeld’s loved ones. 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, executive assistant district officer for the BC RCMP Southeast District.

The RCMP extends its condolences to the Neufeld family.

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