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News / Northwest

Woman found dead in Spokane 40 years ago identified through DNA, but more questions remain

By Emma Epperly, The Spokesman-Review
Published: March 30, 2023, 7:47am

SPOKANE — With the help of DNA and genetic genealogy, Spokane police last month identified a woman found dead along the Spokane River nearly 40 years ago.

But while investigators now know her name was Ruth Belle Waymire, another mystery remains: Who killed her?

The Spokane Police Department and Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office announced the identification of Waymire, a Spokane woman who no one had heard from since 1984, in a news release Wednesday.

Two fisherman discovered a nude, decapitated body on the south shore of the Spokane River on June 20, 1984. The woman didn’t match the description of any missing people at the time.

Then in April 1998, a skull was found in a vacant lot at Seventh Avenue and Sherman Street. Tips and leads poured in after the discovery, but an identification was elusive.

Without the woman’s real name, police dubbed her “Millie” after Spokane Police Detective Don Giese’s daughter told her father that “no one deserves to not have a name.”

Three years later, through then-cutting edge DNA technology, the skull was matched to the torso found in 1984. The DNA was uploaded into the Combined DNA Index System, but it didn’t find a match.

Investigators continued to revisit the case over the years. In 2002, forensic drawings and a facial reconstruction were done. In 2007, the case information was uploaded into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System’s database.

Last fall, not long after genetic genealogy helped solve the cold case killing of Candy Rogers in Spokane, Spokane Police Sgt. Zac Storment sent “Millie’s” DNA to Othram Nanolabs for analysis.

Genetic genealogy uses a special type of DNA analysis to compare unknown DNA profiles to profiles in publicly available databases. Then genealogists build family trees from often distant connections, like cousins or uncles, to help identify people.

The genealogy investigation narrowed “Millie’s” identity down to one of two sisters. Investigators were able to find one of the sisters living in the Midwest. Detectives contacted her and she provided DNA, which confirmed “Millie” to be Ruth Belle Waymire.

Waymire, who was 24 at the time of her death, grew up in Spokane. She attended Rogers High School, living with her mother and sister after her parents’ divorce.

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After Waymire’s mother died, the sisters went separate ways and lost contact. Waymire was never reported missing and “was described to have a vagabond lifestyle,” spending time in both Spokane and Wenatchee, according to the news release.

At the time of her death, Waymire was married to Trampas D.L. Vaughn, her second husband. She had given birth a year or two before her death, according to autopsy results. Investigators also have not found any records of Waymire’s child or children.

Spokane police have yet to identify Waymire’s killer. Vaughn, who served time in prison in Iowa, died in California, near Sacramento, in 2017.

There’s no divorce record between the couple, and investigators have not ruled him out as a suspect.

Waymire’s first husband, who currently lives in Spokane, is not a suspect and is cooperating with the investigation, according to police.

Spokane police hope that people who knew Waymire, her husbands or children will contact police with any information they might have. Tips can be called into Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.