By Richard Van Winkle, News of Mill Creek.
Thanks to volunteers at the DNA Doe Project, on Monday, December 23, 2019, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner identified the skeletal remains of a body found in February 2015 as Nathaniel Terrence Davies, who was 65 years old at the time of his death.
According to the medical examiner’s press release, “Identification was accomplished by the DNA Doe Project using genetic genealogy. The cause and manner of death are both undetermined, but no foul play is suspected.”
Born in 1949 in Baltimore, Maryland, Deggs lived in the Bronx, New York, before showing up in Mill Creek in about 1985.
The medical examiner’s report stated, “By all accounts Mr. Diggs (Deggs) lived a fairly quiet life during the nearly thirty years he lived on the property. Former tenants stated that he kept to himself, rarely leaving the confines of the shed.”
Although he was never arrested and stayed out of trouble, Mill Creek police contacted Deggs a number of times and knew him as Jerry or Jeremy Diggs, or Jerry Deggs.
Shed where Terrance Deggs lived. Photo courtesy of Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office.
The Search for an Identity
From the time Deggs’s remains were found, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office conducted extensive forensic tests to determine his identity.
The body’s condition was so poor, only a partial fingerprint could be recovered. A database search by Washington State Patrol and FBI investigators didn’t yield a match.
The medical examiner’s report said, “A dental exam was conducted by forensic odontologist Dr. Gary Bell and when the results were uploaded to the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, over thirty possible matches came back, all of which were examined and ruled out for various reasons.”
The University of North Texas Health Science Center was able to extract a DNA sample from the body’s right thigh bone in late 2015. However, there were no matches to the DNA found in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System.
With the cooperation of forensic anthropologist Dr. Katherine Taylor, forensic artist Natalie Murry used the body’s skull to create a reconstruction drawing. This drawing was released to the public in February 2017 in an effort to seek the public’s help in identifying the remains.
Artist Natalie Murry's forensic drawing. Image courtesy of Snohomish County Medical Examiner.
The DNA Doe Project Brought In
In mid-2017 Snohomish County investigators turned to the DNA Doe Project for help.
Co-founded by Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick and Dr. Margaret Press, the all-volunteer organization helps law enforcement, medical examiners, and coroners to identify human remains by matching sequenced DNA to the GEDmatch database.
In November 2017 the DNA Doe Project sent a small section of the body’s left thigh bone to AMD Biotech for two sets of whole genome sequencing. The resulting DNA genome data was then analyzed by Dr. Gregory Magoon of Aerodyne Research and the results was uploaded to the GEDmatch database for comparison.
Over the next two years the DNA Doe Project volunteers spent many hours building family trees using the GEDmatch database, but couldn’t find a close living relative who could be contacted for a potential identification.
According to the medial examiner’s report, it wasn’t until February 2019 that a close relative uploaded their DNA to the GEDmatch database and opted in to sharing their information with law enforcement.
The DNA Doe Project volunteers were then able to create a family tree that was used by Snohomish County investigators to contact Deggs’s living relatives to complete the official identification on September 3, 2019.
Editor’s note: Everett Herald reporter Caleb Hutton’s article "The mystery of the man in the Mill Creek shed is solved," and Mill Creek Beacon reporter Emily Gilbert’s article, “Case solved: North Creek man's remains finally identified,” provide interesting narratives regarding Terrance Deggs’s life.