Detectives identify victim of 1977 murder in Everett

Detectives identify victim of 1977 murder in Everett
Photo of Elizabeth "Lisa" Ann Roberts from the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office.

EVERETT, Wash. — Detectives with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office have identified a woman who was murdered in Everett in 1977.

Officials said Elizabeth Ann Elder was born in 1959 in Hood River, Oregon. She was adopted around the age of 2 and was named Elizabeth Ann Roberts, but deputies said she went by Lisa Roberts.

Raised in Roseburg, Oregon, deputies said Lisa was reported as a runaway by her father on July 25, 1977.

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Lisa called home a few weeks after she ran away and asked her parents for money, deputies said.

Her parents begged her to come home and sent her money to a bank in Everett, but deputies said it was never picked up.

According to detectives, she was murdered on Aug. 9, just 15 days after she left home, and her body was found on Aug. 14, 1977.

DNA obtained using technique previously thought to be impossible

Detectives said they were able to identify Lisa using SNP DNA and investigative genetic genealogy.

“The DNA used for the identification was obtained from Lisa’s hair using a new scientific technique developed by Dr. Ed Green, a scientist of ancient DNA and paleogenomics,” detectives said in a news release. “This new technique, previously thought to be impossible, enables DNA-based forensics from rootless hair and other difficult sources.  

Investigators were able to later build a family tree to identify Lisa’s biological parents and a biological half brother. The DNA of Lisa’s half brother was used to establish the positive identification.

“We are grateful to Dr. Barbara Rae-Venter and her Firebird Forensics Group for the effort and hundreds of hours that they donated solving this case for us,” said Dr. Matt Lucy, Snohomish County chief medical examiner. “Lisa would not be identified today if not for the work they did.”

Original investigation of the murder

In their initial investigation into Lisa’s death in 1977, detectives said they learned she was hitchhiking near Silver Lake on Aug. 9 when she was picked up by a man identified as David Roth.

Detectives said Roth originally told Lisa that he wanted to go swimming at the lake but instead asked her to have sex with him.

“When she declined, he strangled her and shot her seven times in the head. Her body was found five days later by residents picking blackberries in the 11300 block of 4th Avenue West in unincorporated south Everett.” detectives said.

Her body was unrecognizable when it was found.

Detectives said Roth confessed to the murder and was sentenced to 26 years in prison. 

Detectives originally thought the remains were of a 25-to-35-year-old woman and drew a sketch of what she was thought to look like, but no one could identify her.

Lisa was no longer listed as a missing person in the National Crime Information Center “for an unknown reason,” detectives said.

Doe Network inquiry in 2008

In 2008, detectives said they began extensive efforts in 2008 to identify her body after the Doe Network inquired about the case.

Lisa’s body was examined by Dr. Kathy Taylor, the state forensic anthropologist with the King County Medical Examiner’s Office. 

Taylor’s examination revealed that the remains were more likely that of a teenage girl aged 16 to 19. Detectives said Taylor’s examination got the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children involved.  

Detectives said they were never able to identify Lisa, who was named Precious Jane Doe by Detective Jim Scharf. 

“This young girl was precious to me because her moral decision from her proper upbringing cost her her life,” said lead Detective Jim Scharf.  “I knew she had to be precious to her family too, so I had to find them.  We needed to give her name back to her and return her remains to her family.”  

Detectives said Scharf worked on the case for 12 years and Jan Jorgensen, Snohomish County medical examiner lead medical investigator, worked on it for the past three years.

Phone call from Oregon Health Authority Vital Records

According to detectives, Scharf received a phone call on June 16 from the Oregon Health Authority Vital Records confirming Lisa had been adopted Oregon and was renamed Elizabeth Ann Roberts.

Scharf then contacted her family to tell them of the news and learned she had gone by Lisa.

According to detectives, Lisa’s sister Tonya, who was only 10 years old when Lisa ran away said: “I looked up to Lisa as my big sister, who would spend time with me and play with me downstairs. We had a really good bond because we were both adopted.”

Officials said Arrangements are currently being made for Lisa’s memorial service and her remains will be buried in a family plot in Hood River, Oregon. 

“I am so proud and so thankful for the incredible work and dedication by Detective Jim Scharf and all of our partners and investigators who made this possible,” Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney said. “For years Detective Scharf has had Precious Jane Doe’s story linked in his email signature trying to identify her.  Although it wasn’t the answer anyone wished for, Precious Jane Doe finally has her name back, and she can now be returned to her family and loved ones.”