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June 11, 2012 at 2:48 PM

Remains identified as Marysville man missing 26 years

Skeletal remains found in Arizona in 1988 were recently identified as those of a Marysville man who had disappeared two years earlier, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office said today.

Todd Mertes was 25 when his family last heard from him, in September 1986 from Las Vegas, according to the Sheriff’s Office. In January 1987, an informant contacted the Phoenix Police Department to report a friend’s husband had killed a man she knew only as “Mike.”  The victim had been staying with the couple and was allegedly stabbed by Michael Alan Root after an argument, the Sheriff’s Office said in a news release. Root and his wife then put the body in a sleeping bag and dumped it in the Arizona desert, the news release said.

A hiker found the skeletal remains outside of Tonopah, Ariz., in February 1988.  The location of the remains and items found at the scene were consistent with the information given to Phoenix police a year earlier, but detectives didn’t know the identity of the victim, the Sheriff’s Office said. By the time detectives located Root, he was serving multiple life sentences for murder in Michigan.

Root died in prison in 2008, and never admitted to the murder of Mertes, according to the news release.

In 2010, Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office cold case detective Jim Scharf  learned through research and from Mertes’ family that a missing person report wasn’t on file in any cold case database. Scharf asked the family to file a report and collected DNA from Mertes’ sister, mother and father.

The DNA profile was loaded into a national DNA database. When Arizona detectives extracted DNA from “Mike’s” remains in 2010 and loaded them into that same system, they came back with an immediate match to the profile of Mertes, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Scharf recently notified Mertes’ family that he had finally been found.

“If there is a lesson to be learned from Todd’s story, it’s that family members should check back with agencies who they think have an active missing person report, especially if it’s been more than 10 years,” said Scharf in the news release.  “The tools and technology have advanced so much in recent years. It may be possible to locate or identify someone that we couldn’t have 10 or 20 years ago and give peace to the family.”

Comments | More in The Blotter | Topics: cold case, homicide, Marysville

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