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Remains found in Snohomish County 41 years ago belong to missing Georgia man

After nine attempts from four different DNA labs, the remains of a John Doe found in Snohomish County in 1980 have been identified as a missing Georgia man.

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. — After nine attempts from four different DNA labs, the remains of a John Doe found in Snohomish County in 1980 have been identified as a Georgia man who was reported missing in King County in 1979.

The Snohomish County Sheriff's Office (SCSO) said the remains were positively identified in December 2021 as 28-year-old Ronald David Chambers of Rome, Georgia.

SCSO said Chambers was last seen by his wife in December 1978, when he was leaving their motel in SeaTac. Chambers left their motel in a rental car and was never seen by his family again. 

SCSO identified a possible suspect, Robert “Bob” Helberg, when he went to the motel Chambers was staying at with Chambers' rental car the day Chambers went missing. Foul play was suspected but authorities were not able to prove it without a body, according to SCSO.

In August 1980, a Snohomish County landowner discovered human skeletal remains on his property. SCSO and the coroner responded to the report and collected the remains, which included a skull with a gunshot wound.

SCSO said the case grew cold as the years went on.

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In 2008, Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Detective Jim Scharf and retired Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Ken Cowsert began re-examining the case.

In 2011, Scharf obtained a search warrant to have the remains exhumed to get a DNA sample for identification. A lab was unable to get a usable DNA sample. A tooth was also sent to try and help identify the remains but it also failed to provide a usable DNA sample.

In 2020, SCSO obtained funding from the FBI to have another lab, Othram Inc., based in Texas, attempt to obtain usable DNA from the remains.

In 2021, after multiple rounds of extraction, the lab was able to obtain a DNA sample that was sufficient for testing. The lab's genetic genealogists were able to provide the Medical Examiner’s Office with the name of a possible match, Ronald David Chambers.

Chambers' identity was confirmed by a DNA ancestry company. In 2022, dental charts obtained from Chambers' military records also confirmed a match.

“I watched my mother grieve for 25 years for her son, wondering where he was and what happened to him," Chambers' sister said in a statement. "At 12 years old I lost one of the most important people in my life, my big brother. And today, thanks to the determination and hard work of so many men and women that worked my brother's case, we are able to bring him home after so many years. I am so thankful for and amazed by the hard work they put into his case over the years."

SCSO said Helberg is still considered a suspect in Chambers' homicide and other homicide investigations. Helberg died in prison in 1993.

Anyone with information about Helberg’s activities from 1978 to 1985, is asked to contact the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office tip line 425-388-3845.

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