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'Precious Jane Doe,' Teen Murdered In 1977, Finally Identified As Missing Runaway

Elizabeth Ann Roberts' remains went unidentified for more than 40 years before advancements in DNA testing provided her surviving relatives with answers.

By Sharon Lynn Pruitt
Elizabeth Ann Roberts Pd

A decades-old murder case has been solved thanks to advancements in DNA testing, authorities in Washington announced last week.

"Precious Jane Doe," a young female hitchhiker who was found murdered in August 1977, went unidentified for more than 40 years, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office said in a recent news release. But the office's major crimes unit and cold case team, as well as the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office, spent years on the case and, with the help of private forensics consultants, have since been able to identify the slain girl as Elizabeth Ann Roberts, a 17-year-old teen who ran away from home, never to be seen alive again.

Roberts, who also went by the name Lisa Roberts, was an Oregon native who lived with her adoptive parents in Roseburg before she went missing, according to authorities. Her father reported her missing on July 25, 1977 and told police that she'd run away from home. Although she called home from the Everett area several days later to ask for money and her parents obliged, Roberts never claimed that money because she was killed on August 9, 1977, just over two weeks after she left home, the release states.

Authorities who investigated the case in 1977 learned that she'd been hitchhiking near the Silver Lake area on the day that she was killed, according to authorities. A man named David Roth is alleged to have picked her up under the pretense of giving her a ride, but once she was in the car, asked her to have sex with him; when she said no, he then strangled her and shot her in the head several times, according to the release. When locals came across Roberts' body less than a week later, on August 14, she had been so badly injured that she was "unrecognizable," authorities said.

While Roth, who was 20 at the time, admitted to the killing and was sentenced to 26 years in prison for it, Roberts' remains went unidentified for decades. Roth, who was released from prison in 2005, even agreed to help investigators with Jane Doe's case, but has maintained that he never knew the name of the girl whose life he stole, according to a 2008 report from The Daily Herald.

“You pick up a stranger, a hitchhiker, she’s not going to tell you her name. You’re not trying to get personal,” Roth said, according to the outlet. “She didn’t ask me my name.”

Despite the release of multiple artist renderings of what Doe may have looked like when she was alive, she went unidentified, her name and identity lost until advancements in technology led to the answer to a nearly 43-year-old question. Authorities teamed with the Firebird Forensics Group, who were able to positively identify Jane Doe using DNA from Roberts' hair and a technique created by scientist Dr. Ed Green that was "previously thought to be impossible," the sheriff's office said. They then utilized publicly available genetic genealogy websites to create a family tree and track down Roberts' family.

It was happy news for Jim Scharf, a detective with Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office who spent 12 years working on the case and who gave Roberts the name "Precious Jane Doe."

“This young girl was precious to me because her moral decision from her proper upbringing cost her her life,” Scharf said in Thursday's release. “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.”  

Roberts' family have been notified and are arranging for her to be buried in a family plot in Hood River, Oregon — the same city that she was born in, according to authorities. As for her killer, he died of cancer in 2015, The Daily Herald reports.

Ann West, Roberts' niece, said last week that while the news of how Roberts died is "upsetting," they are still "joyful" to have answers, local station KING5 reports. Her biological family is also looking forward to getting to know her adoptive relatives.

"We’re finding some peace and some solace in an otherwise ugly situation,” West said.