Snohomish County Jane Doe
On August 14th, 1977, a couple of blackberry pickers discovered the remains of a young woman in Everett, WA. Despite police quickly zeroing in on the killer, the identity of this young woman has remained a mystery in the decades since…
On August 14th, 1977, a couple of blackberry pickers were walking through a wooded area of Everett, Washington.
Everett is a city in Snohomish County - just about half-an-hour north of Seattle. Everett is known as a wealthy suburb, full of tech execs that work for Microsoft, Amazon, and many other dozens of companies. However, at this point - in 1977 - Everett was known as an extension of the still-growing Seattle metropolitan area, and its biggest employer - by far - was Boeing.
On a hot summer day in the middle of August, these two individuals were walking in a heavily-forested area near Mariner High School, looking for blackberries to pick. This area was just off of 112th St. SW and 4th Ave. W; but, it's worth noting, that 4th Avenue was called "Emander Road" at the time.
As the two blackberry pickers walked in this area near Paine Field, they made an unthinkable discovery. In this quiet area of Snohomish County, they found the decomposing body of a young woman, who was still fully-clothed and was lying face-down, with her arms by her sides. She had been strangled and shot several times in the head, and - as such - her age would be hard to identify in the coming weeks, months, and years.
She would later be known by a moniker, which has stuck after all of these years.
This is the story of Snohomish County Jane Doe.
David Marvin Roth was born on June 7th, 1957, in Richardton, North Dakota.
His parents, Gordon and Lizabeth Roth, were devout Catholics, who had one child before David: an older son named Randy.
The two Roth brothers would have conflicting relationships with their parents, as their childhood was full of grief and turmoil.
David described his father, Gordon, as being both incredibly strict and abusive. Gordon apparently discouraged his sons from displaying many outward emotions, which caused them to lack in both empathy and compassion for others.
David said his mother, Lizabeth, was much more supportive. However, his older brother, Randy, says that she wasn't exactly role model-material.
Despite being practicing Catholics, Gordon and Lizabeth split up in the early 1970's, and divorced in 1971. Randy Roth decided to stay with his father, Gordon. He would tell his friends, over the next several years, that his mother was either dead or was mentally unstable... which we now know to be false.
Lizabeth and David Roth moved to western Washington, moving to the town of Lynnwood, in Snohomish County. This area is roughly halfway between downtown Seattle and Everett, Washington - an area that was much less busy decades ago, but has become a sprawling suburban center.
In the summer of 1977, David Marvin Roth - then twenty years old - still lived with his mother in this area.
August 9th, 1977, was a very hot summer day, in this area along the Puget Sound.
David Roth, who was twenty years old, decided to go swimming at the nearby Silver Lake; right off of the Bothell-Everett highway. This was described as a good area to go find some people to drink beer and smoke weed with, and this sounded like a good use of a summer afternoon for David.
Getting into his 1963 Chevy Nova, David began heading towards Silver Lake, which was a few miles north from where he was living. However, as he got closer - driving past the Everett Boeing plant - he saw a young woman walking south.
She was a young woman with light skin, who stood about five-feet-ten-inches tall, weighing around 150 to 160 pounds, with large front teeth, and a distinguished jawline. David thought she was attractive, and - as she was hitchhiking - he decided to make a change to his day's plans.
David picked up the young woman, and they headed to a nearby store - named Midland Grocery - to buy a six-pack of beer. They then drove up a wooded area nearby, close to Mariner High School, which was closed for the summer. David parked his car, and the two sat there for a short period of time. Each cracked open a beer, with the young woman smoking a cigarette as they talked for a bit.
David later described this young woman as not having an accent; he said she spoke in a plain, almost-monotone voice. To him, she didn't seem to be very educated, but he estimated her to be in her early-to-mid-30's, due to the wrinkles she had around her eyes. And, based off of how she held her cigarette - casually in her right hand - he believed her to be right-handed.
As they sat in the woods and talked, David learned that this young woman was pretty guarded. She told him that she lived with two men, but didn't offer up many details... at least, none that he could remember, or felt comfortable sharing later on.
You see, as they sat there and finished their beers, David asked this young woman - whose name he didn't catch - if she wanted some weed. He was holding, and offered her a joint. She refused. Then, he tried making a sexual advance against the young woman.
Again, she refused. She told David that she wasn't too comfortable, and felt like going home.
David Marvin Roth, though, didn't know how to take this rejection. He lashed out, violently, and began trying to sexually assault this young woman.
Eventually, this scuffle - which took place in the front seat of David's Chevy Nova - culminated in him grabbing a nearby bungee cord, and wrapping it around the young woman's neck. He squeezed until she stopped resisting; at which point, she involuntarily urinated in David's front seat.
David got out of the car, walked around to the passenger door, and dragged the young woman's body out to a nearby brush. He prepared to leave her there for dead, until she began moving.
It appeared that she wasn't dead. At least, not yet.
David went back to his 1963 Chevy Nova, opening up the trunk. Inside was a rifle, which had seven rounds in the cartridge.
He walked over to the squirming body of this young woman, and - using his .22-caliber rifle - shot the young woman in the head seven times. He fired until there were no more rounds for him to fire; at which point, the unknown woman was no longer moving.
He then picked up his shell casings, before getting back into his car and driving away, leaving this body to be discovered by someone else.
On Saturday, August 13th, 1977 - four days after shooting and killing a young woman - David Roth came under police scrutiny.
Police were called to a disturbance in Gold Bar, a small rural town in eastern Snohomish County - about 30 miles east of Everett. Apparently, at a park in Gold Bar, a man was seen waving a gun around, and was causing a bit of a scene.
A responding police officer, who was on his way to the park, witnessed a 1963 Chevy Nova speeding past him. This officer, believing that might be the guy he was there to see, turned around and turned on his lights.
David Marvin Roth was pulled over by this police officer on a traffic violation... at least, until the officer saw traces of marijuana and roach clips in David's ashtray. Upon a further examination of David's vehicle, a .22-caliber rifle was found, which contained a clip that held 59 rounds.
David Roth was arrested on a weapons charge, and his car was impounded. He would spend the next two days in jail, having to wait until Monday morning to be released.
The following day - August 14th, 1977 - was when the body of the murdered young woman was found by blackberry pickers in Everett, Washington, near Mariner High School and Paine Field.
Unfortunately, police found themselves hard-pressed to identify the victim. They found that she was not carrying any form of identification; in fact, she seemed to be carrying no cards or paperwork, at all. And because of the multiple gunshots to her head - as well as the nearly week-long decomposition process - it made it hard for investigators to determine her age, which would give them at least a baseline to begin their search for her identity.
Police were able to learn that she was a young, white female, who had light brown hair - hair which had no sign of any prior color treatments. She stood about five-feet-ten-inches tall, and weighed an estimated 155 pounds. She appeared to have a suntan, and her teeth were in good condition.
In fact, investigators theorized that she might have been from the east coast, because her teeth were so white. At the time, at least, the mineral balance in east coast water was known for keeping teeth very white, so this was thrown around as a potential lead.
In addition, police discovered that her two upper front teeth had been broken or cracked in the past, leading to some extensive dental restorations. At the least, this led investigators to believe that she wasn't homeless; or, if she was a runaway, she had not been gone for very long.
At the time of her death, this young woman had been wearing a tank top, which had white, blue, green, and pink pastel stripes running vertically. She also wore cut-off blue jean shorts, as well as blue-and-white Mr. Sneaker tennis shoes - which were a men's size seven.
In addition, she was also wearing a Timex watch with a yellow metal face and a brown leather band; which she wore on her left wrist.
In her pockets, investigators found just a few items of note: a pack of Marlboro cigarettes, as well as an empty plastic bag, and seventeen cents in pocket change.
However, most intriguing, police were able to find two beer cans near the body, which would point to a suspect just a few days later...
On August 15th, David Marvin Roth was released from jail. At the time, he was preparing to face charges for marijuana possession, but had been cleared on other charges. Police still had not linked him to the unsolved murder from Everett, and wouldn't until days later.
After being released from jail, David went over to a friend's house, in Snohomish County. There, he spilled the beans about the young woman he had murdered, telling this friend about how he had killed her... and where. He spoke about the strangulation, the gunshots, and about the six-pack of beer they had bought. To this friend, it seemed like David was bragging about the murder.
A few days later - on August 19th, 1977 - this friend couldn't hold David's secret any longer. They paid a visit to the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office, and relayed to an investigator what David had said to them.
Police still had David's car in custody - the product of a recent drug bust - and in the trunk, they were able to find bungee cords, as well as shells to David's rifle. As they would later learn, the rifle shells proved to be an exact match to the ones pulled from the skull of the unidentified young woman from Everett, but they planned on staging a bust of David in the near-future.
You see, David was due in court the following Monday - August 22nd - for his cannabis charge. It was likely a misdemeanor charge, meaning that David wasn't looking at any significant jail-time. However, police planned to wait for him to appear, and then detain him for questioning in the murder of this young woman following his court hearing.
However, that Monday - August 22nd, 1977 - David Marvin Roth was a no-show in court. Not only was he a suspect in the murder of this unidentified young woman, but he was now a fugitive.
Over the next year or so, the case to find the identity of this mysterious young woman grew cold.
Investigators struggled to match her identity to any missing persons cases; eventually, expanding their search from the surrounding area to similar runaways and missing women from around the country. Her hands were taken for extensive fingerprint testing, but investigators were unable to find a match.
Because the state her body was found in, it was impossible for investigators to pin down her age. They were able to discover that she was a young woman, but that meant anything from her being a teenager to her being a woman in her mid-thirties... not a very definitive description.
Eventually, she would be buried in Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, in Everett, Washington... just a few miles away from where her body was found. She was buried in plot two of the Sunrise Section, where her tombstone read simply: Jane Doe.
On January 18th, 1979, David Marvin Roth was arrested at an apartment in Port Orchard, Washington - across the Puget Sound, in Kitsap County.
He was technically arrested on his outstanding charge of marijuana possession, but investigators had been wanting to question him for some time over the unsolved death of the Snohomish County Jane Doe. At this point, testing of David's rifle had come back as a positive match for the weapon that had killed the young woman, and the confession from David's friend seemed like more than enough to warrant an interrogation.
While being transported back to Everett on a ferry, David was questioned by a Snohomish County sheriff's detective about the murder of the young woman from over a year prior. During this bout-of-questioning, David confessed to the murder, offering up details about how the crime had unfolded: he said that the young woman was a hitchhiker, who had turned down his sexual advances. He spoke about the strangulation, the multiple gunshots to her head, the beer cans, etc. It was all coming together for investigators.
However, there was one vital detail that David could not provide: the identity of the victim. He said she was a hitchhiker, and the two had not shared their names with one another before buying beer and driving into the woods.
To police, it seemed like they had cracked the case of the young woman's murder... but they had no one to share the details with. No loved ones, no friends... not even a person that knew her by a nickname. She remained a complete enigma, even as the case against her killer came to a close.
During his trial, David Marvin Roth pleaded not guilty. However, this seemed to fall flat, considering that he had confessed to investigators just months prior, and offered up incriminating details that only the killer would know.
Prosecutors revealed that police had been able to successfully match the bullets from David's rifle to the ones found at the crime scene, including those found in the victim's skull. They were able to definitively prove that his rifle was the weapon used to kill the victim, and that David had possession of it in the days before and after the murder.
In short: it was a slam dunk of a case.
In November of 1979, David Roth was convicted of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison, and would be eligible for parole in March of 1997 - less than twenty years after brutally murdering the young woman in wooded Snohomish County.
David Marvin Roth was sent to Walla Walla State Prison, out in southeastern Washington, which has become known for housing convicted killers Gary Ridgeway and Robert Lee Yates. However, in the early 1990s, David was joined by a familiar face: his brother, Randy Roth, who had been convicted for murdering one of his two wives; and was theorized to have murdered the other. He became the subject of an Ann Rule book, titled "A Rose for Her Grave," which went into the brothers' early upbringing, and the abusive lessons taught by their father.
It was perhaps this family reunion that inspired a change in David Marvin Roth, who had been languishing in this state facility for over a decade, simply waiting for death.
After being joined by his brother in Walla Walla State Prison, David Roth began to turn his life around.
He had spent his first decade in prison believing that the system had wronged him. He thought that he was a victim of unfair legal practices, and it wasn't until the early 1990's that he began to take responsibility for his actions.
He voluntarily joined classes which taught him to improve his attitude, including victim empathy, anger management, consequences and actions, and avoiding negative peer pressure.
He stopped abusing drugs and alcohol, and tried to get his mind on-straight.
After 26 years in prison, David was granted parole in the first half of 2005. At this point, he had married, and - following his release - moved back to the Everett area where he had spent his early adulthood.
Now a changed man, David Marvin Roth actually expressed remorse for his actions, and wanted to help identify his victim from decades prior. He began cooperating with law enforcement, who were still searching for the name of the young woman. He told a reporter in 2008:
"I see the detectives going out of their way to find her identity. When these guys asked, I told them I'd do whatever I could. I can no longer help her, but I can help those who are looking for her. Some things we have to do."
David volunteered for ultimately-unsuccessful hypnosis sessions, and even helped refine sketches of the young woman, which was mostly what investigators had been utilizing for decades.
"I've been trying to remember what she looked like. It's not something I try to forget. I wish I could. As the years go by, the details fog up."
Despite cooperating extensively with investigators, David Roth was unsuccessful in helping their quest. He was unable to provide detectives with the most necessary clue: a name.
On August 9th, 2015 - a decade after being released from prison - David Marvin Roth died in an Everett medical center. The cause of death was cancer.
Despite being able to turn his life around, David outlived his unidentified murder victim by 38 years. By the time of his death, he seemed to have understood what a terrible thing he had done, killing her those years prior.
"I felt stupid I'm alive and she was dead. There's no telling what she would have been."
Over the years, investigators have struggled to find out the identity of the unidentified murder victim named Snohomish County Jane Doe.
In 1992, Snohomish County Sheriff's Detective John Hinds used a plaster cast of her skull to create a facial reconstruction, which was then given to media outlets. This endeavor was ultimately unsuccessful, and many attribute its failure to the facial reconstruction making the young woman look older than she actually was.
In 2008, cold case detectives James Scharf and David Heitzman filed a motion to have the remains of the young woman exhumed. This was done with cooperation from the Snohomish County Medical Examiner's office, who offered their assistance willingly.
The remains of this unknown woman were dug up from their plot in Everett, and DNA samples were then extracted from her bones. These DNA samples were sent to state crime labs and submitted to the national FBI database, where they were unable to find a match.
However, following this exhumation, the bones were examined by King County anthropologist Dr. Kathy Taylor, who was able to determine that the victim was younger than originally thought.
As I told you, investigators originally pegged her age in the range from 17 to 35, approximately, but this was amended following this examination of her skeletal remains. The age range was narrowed down to 15 to 21 years old, with the biggest likelihood being between the age range of 16 to 19.
It was very possible that this victim was half of the age that investigators had originally thought, and was perhaps even still a child at the time of her death.
The National Crime Information Center - often abbreviated as the NCIC - is the system which most crimes are filed in. Created in 1967, it has served as a repository for information, which law enforcement agencies may utilize to find missing persons, criminal histories, and other necessary information.
The NCIC has become an insanely useful tool for investigators, but it is not without flaw. Back in the 1970's, when America treated missing persons cases very lightly, it was often for information to miss the cut for one reason for another. Often times, when children went missing, it would be determined that they were runaways... as such, their information was not collected as ardently as current standards require. Often times, when missing children came of age - aka turned 18 - their information would be taken out of the NCIC database.
This, in essence, created ghosts in the missing persons map of America. There are dozens - if not hundreds, or even thousands - of these missing young people throughout America, who essentially fell through the cracks.
It's very possible that Snohomish County Jane Doe, who was murdered in 1977, was one of these victims. It was possible that she was a recent runaway, who had been reported missing, but was either a technical adult or close to it, and - as such - her case was not treated seriously.
It's also possible - if unlikely - that there was something else going on behind-the-scenes. After all, in conversations with her eventual killer, Jane Doe told David Marvin Roth that she lived with two men. What is the likelihood that she lived with two male guardians, who might have been partners? Would police in the 1970's have taken them seriously, if they reported a child missing? My heart tells me no, since many parts of modern America continue to treat those in the LGBT community with disdain.
It has been forty-one years since the remains of Snohomish County Jane Doe were found in Everett, Washington. Her case file, #77-17073, remains open and unsolved, with her identity being a total mystery. She has been linked to runaways and missing persons from as far away as California, Ohio, and even Australia, but... all of those leads have come up empty.
It is believed that, whoever she was, she was born between 1956 and 1962. Her parents, if they are still alive, would be in their 70's - if not older. Despite advances in DNA technology and forensic testing, investigators believe that they are running out of time to close this case.
The story of the young woman known as Snohomish County Jane Doe remains unresolved.
Written, hosted, and produced by Micheal Whelan
Published on October 7th, 2018
Originally published as a ‘Patreon Exclusive’ on September 2nd, 2018