Jawbone of US Marine killed in 1951 found in boy’s rock collection, experts say

The jawbone of a US Marine Corps member killed during an aeroplane accident more than 70 years ago has finally been identified after it spent years as part of an Arizona boy’s rock collection.

College students and one high school intern working with the Ramapo College Investigative Genetic Genealogy Center in New Jersey helped make the discovery, according to a news release issued on Tuesday.

The organisation has been influential in helping identify the victims of cold cases.

Most of Captain Everett Leland Yager’s remains were recovered in Riverside County, California, after the 1951 accident and buried in Palmyra, Missouri.

It’s thought that a scavenger, possibly a bird, picked up the man’s jawbone and deposited it in northern Arizona, where it’s believed to have been picked up by the child, who officials did not identify.

The boy’s mother discovered the “rock”, which had several teeth, in her son’s belongings and contacted the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office in around 2002. The sheriff’s department and the Yavapai County Medical Examiner referred the case to the genealogy centre in January 2023 after performing unsuccessful DNA tests.

Students in the centre’s bootcamp took on the case in July. Researchers contacted the daughter of Captain Yager for a DNA sample to compare the jaw bone. In 2024 March, the test results of that sample confirmed a parent/child relationship between the two, resolving the case.

Plans are currently being made to reunite the remains with the man’s family, the genealogy centre said. Ethan Schwartz, the high school student, is thought to be the youngest person ever to contribute to an investigative genetic genealogy case resolution.

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