Medical Examiner identifies deceased woman from 2008

by | Feb 15, 2024

The Washoe County Regional Medical Examiner’s Office (WCRMEO) has positively identified a woman who was found dead in May 2008 in Churchill County.

Photo of Betty Lou Japel

Betty Lou Japel

Betty Lou Japel, 70 at the time of her death, was identified through an innovative partnership between WCRMEO and Othram, Inc. Othram was able to perform forensic genetic genealogy by comparing her DNA profile to profiles uploaded to consumer genealogical databases consented for law enforcement use. While this type of analysis does not yield a positive identification, it can produce powerful investigative leads.  After an extensive investigation of the leads, the Medical Examiner’s Office was able to locate a potential relative who provided a DNA sample for direct comparison. Othram was able to compare the two DNA samples, making a positive identification.

Othram’s familial genetic genealogy services cost several thousand dollars and are made possible by a combination of funding from the Medical Examiner’s Office and private donors. In this case, Othram reported that Texas based author and journalist Joe Pappalardo donated the remaining funding needed to perform the testing.

Ms. Japel’s body was discovered buried near U.S. Highway 95 in rural Churchill County on May 19, 2008, by two passersby. The Churchill County Sheriff’s Office responded and conducted a death investigation. Japel’s body was transported to the Washoe County Medical Examiner’s Office where a complete autopsy was performed by a county forensic pathologist. The cause of death was determined to be multiple gunshot wounds, and the manner of death was homicide. Japel’s next of kin has been notified and is now able to claim her remains.

Washoe County Chief Medical Examiner and Coroner Dr. Laura D. Knight commented that: “This is the second unidentified person from a cold case that we have been able to identify due to this partnership and the generosity of members of the public. I am pleased we were able to provide Ms. Japel’s family with the ability to claim her remains and find some degree of closure.”

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