The body of a teenage hitchhiker who left his home in Idaho for Oregon 50 years ago has been identified with the help of a child he didn’t even know he had.
Winston Arthur Maxey III was 15 years old when he left his Boise home to pursue a better life in the spring of 1971. He planned to hitchhike along the Oregon Coast looking for jobs and told his sister he was heading for Coos Bay. Weeks after he left home, Maxey’s body was found there, the Coos County Sheriff’s Office said.
At the time, his family said they weren’t sure if he had ever made it to the coast and they never heard from him after he left Idaho.
The teen’s body was discovered in the Englewood area of Snedden Creek in Coos Bay in July 1971. Police at the time worked to solve the case, according to the sheriff’s office, but the technology was limited and the body’s condition was not ideal for identification.
The boy was ultimately buried in a local cemetery after authorities were unable to learn his name or how he died despite investigating. However, the case remained open.
Authorities exhumed Maxey’s remains in 2017 to take a DNA specimen. The sample was then registered through the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System database and analyzed by Parabon Nanolabs, according to KOIN media group in Portland, Oregon.
The Virginia-based Parabon was able to develop a DNA profile based on the sample in May 2021. Law enforcement said it did not include a name but provided Maxey’s ancestry, eye, skin and hair color, facial structure and a composite profile.
Two months later, the company was able to find the unnamed man’s family and matched his genealogy and ancestry history with a male in the Idaho area.
However, investigators still didn’t have a name.
Detectives in Coos County reached out to Maxey’s family and were provided a DNA sample by family, including his sister. The sample matched the body that was found 50 years prior and Maxey’s remains finally had a name.
Investigators also learned that the 15-year-old had unknowingly fathered a child before leaving home. The baby, a girl, was given up for adoption and had been searching for her biological parents for a number of years.
A private investigator helped the woman learn her mother’s name in 1988, and the mother in turn told her the father’s name. She was able to build a relationship with his family and remained particularly close with her grandfather until his death.
Maxey’s daughter began searching for him after learning his name but the efforts intensified in 2016. Later, she created a Facebook page, “Where in the world is Winston Maxey,” filed an official missing person’s report and began working with police in an effort to find her father.
Maxey’s daughter was also contacted by Parabon in August because she was believed to be a match to a John Doe in Coos Bay, Oregon, from 1971.
“Today, the press release went out, the John Doe had now been identified,” Maxey’s daughter wrote on Facebook. “It brings me and my family some closure but we still do not know what happened.”
She continued that she believes someone out there knows what happened to her father and she hopes they “do the right thing” so her family can have full closure and finish grieving.
Law enforcement told KOIN they’re in the process of transporting Maxey’s remains to his family.