Snohomish County detectives identify John Doe, victim of late 1980s homicide

Rodney Johnson (Photos courtesy Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)

After nearly 26 years of working to identify a John Doe found in floating in Lake Stickney, Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Unit, Cold Case Team and the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office have positively identified him as Rodney Peter Johnson.

Johnson was born in 1962 and his body was found in Lake Stickney in 1994. He sustained a gunshot wound to the head. For more than two decades, his remains went unidentified.

The victim was last seen by family members sometime around late 1987 or early 1988, when he reportedly left on a camping trip.

On June 11, 1994, Johnson’s body was found floating in Lake Stickney. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner determined his body was covered in a soap-like substance called adipocere, indicating his body had likely been underwater for many years. Detectives believe Rodney was killed in 1987 and his body was weighted down under the water until it surfaced in 1994.

In an effort to identify the body, extensive work was done over the years by the medical examiner to create sketches of what the victim may have looked like, however all efforts were unsuccessful.

Successful identification of the victim was established using forensic-grade genome sequencing and genealogy.  In January 2020, Detective Jim Scharf and Snohomish County Medical Examiner lead investigator, Jane Jorgensen, began working with Othram, Inc. to build a genealogical profile from the victim’s degraded DNA so they could use genetic genealogy to identify his body. DNA Solutions had previously extracted the victim’s DNA from a tooth but there was less than a fifth of a nanogram of degraded human DNA available. The sample was sent to Othram for sequencing and genealogy.

Rodney and his brothers. From left Chris, Rodney, Raider, Randy (Ron).

In May 2020, Othram uploaded the victim’s DNA profile to GEDmatch, a public genetic genealogy website, and a promising match was found for the victim’s first cousin. The detective and the medical examiner investigator determined the remains likely belonged to Rodney Johnson.  In June, a DNA sample was voluntarily acquired from the victim’s father and a brother.  On Aug.4, those DNA results verified the remains are those of Rodney Peter Johnson. He would have been 25 years old at the time of his murder.

Because of this identification, detectives are asking for people to come forward with information, specifically:

  • Anyone who knew Rodney Johnson or knew of his activities in or around the mid to late 1980s.
  • Anyone who may have information regarding Johnson or his last known whereabouts.
  • Anyone with information regarding his murder.

Detectives believe Rodney lived on Northwest 60th in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood and worked at The Golden Dragon Chinese restaurant on 17th Avenue around the time of his killing.

If you or anyone you know has information related to this case, call the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office tip line 425-388-3845.


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