Skull Found in Oregon Wilderness Is 19-Year-Old Woman: DNA Reveals in Decades-Long Cold Case

The partial skull of Wanda Ann Herr; Wanda Ann Herr at 19-years-old
Clackamas County Sheriff's Office

The woman was identified as Wanda Ann Herr.

A partial human skull discovered decades ago by forest workers atop Mount Hood, Oregon was successfully matched using DNA analysis to a 19-year-old woman who vanished in the 1970s, authorities revealed.

The woman was identified as Wanda Ann Herr.

The skull had been in the woods for at least 10 years before it was discovered by two forestry workers in 1986. Bone fragments and a human tooth were also found. At the time, the Oregon State Police forensic examiner revealed that the skull belonged to a woman in her 20s or a small man, according to a release.

For more than two decades the case went cold, until 2008 when a state police forensic anthropologist reexamined the skull. Through DNA testing, a team of specialists at the University of North Texas narrowed the description to a female in her late teens to early 20s. Forensic imaging experts were able to reconstruct the skull with clay. The ambitious attempt garnered a number of tips, but no solid leads, authorities said. 

The case remained cold.

In 2019, the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office received a federal grant which enabled them to conduct genetic genealogy and DNA phenotyping on 100 unidentified skeletal remains. This led the team to critical details about the unidentified woman, who was described to be of European descent with fair skin and freckles, hazel and/or brown eyes and brown hair, said the release.

Sgt. Marcus Mendoza of the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Department told Inside Edition Digital that once the victim was identified we learned that she was a lost soul and did not have the best family life growing up. 

“There are no records of her as a runway or missing person,” he said. "There is no DMV record, no bank account, and no police reports that mention her.”  

Detectives interviewed the victim’s surviving sisters and learned that she was raised in different households than her sisters and that she disappeared after June 1976, Fox News reported. She also may have been living in a group home in the Portland suburb of Gresham at the time.

In the meantime, Mendoza, said the case is likely a homicide.

Now that Herr's identity has been determined, detectives are hoping to find fresh leads in the case. They are asking the public for any information, anyone who may have known her, or met her in the 1970s, or any other details to contact the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office at 503-723-4949 or and reference case 86-025724.