Bones of Contention

Last year, evidence from a DNA test was thought to have solved one of Utah’s oldest cold cases: the 1934 disappearance of Everett Ruess.¬† National Geographic Adventure published a big, splashy exclusive on the 75-year old mystery. But some observers, most notably Kevin Jones, Utah’s state archaeologist, had reason to question the findings in the story, including the genetic analysis that seemed to confirm the identity of the discovered bones.

In this Salt Lake Tribune story last summer, Jones continued to air his doubts:

A lot of people threw aside their skepticism with the announcement of the DNA tests. They don’t realize that DNA is just another line of evidence, and can yield mistakes as well.

That infuriated the scientists at the University of Colorado, in Boulder, who did the DNA analysis. One of them, Dennis Van Gerven shot back:

Genetic evidence is not just another kind of evidence. This is the kind of evidence that puts people on death row and takes people off death row.

That quote is going to haunt Van Gerven for some time.

Kevin Jones turned out to be right. Here’s my short profile of him in the current issue of High Country News.

2 Responses to “Bones of Contention”

  1. I am working on a biography of Everett Ruess for the University of California Press and ¬†have spent a lot of time on the bones’ issue. Despite opposition from his superiors and scathing criticism from Dennis Van Gerven and Richard Ingebretsen, a Salt Lake environmentalist and doctor, Kevin played the key role in influencing the family of Everett Ruess to take a third and last look at the DNA, which proved not to be linked to his family but rather a Native American. The whole issue brings into serious question the reliability of DNA identification, which I will address in my book. Nice portrait of Kevin in HCN.

  2. Keith Kloor says:

    I look forward to reading that book, Philip. Glad you enjoyed the profile of Jones.

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