Genetic Genealogy the Next Step in Identifying Native Woman Killed in Fiery 1991 Crash in Southwest Washington 


Investigators will use genetic genealogy in hopes of identifying an Indigenous woman who died in a fiery crash in Cowlitz County in 1991.

The woman was killed on May 14, 1991, when the southbound semi tractor-trailer she was riding in rear-ended another semi stopped in traffic on Interstate 5 near Kalama. She is known as Helen Doe because Mount St. Helens stands in the distance of where she died.

The driver was identified as 26-year-old Lester Dean Harvel, a long-haul trucker who left Missouri on May 7, 1991. He also died in the crash.

The name of his unauthorized female passenger, who was severely burned, is unknown. Harvel was known to pick up hitchhikers, according to Doe's profile in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), but no one knew of anyone riding in his semi that day.

Authorities with the Washington State Patrol recently said Doe's bones are with a company that is working on the DNA extraction and will follow that with genetic genealogy. A DNA sample previously extracted wasn't sufficient for genetic genealogy testing, according to investigators.

Likely in her 20s, Doe was approximately 5 feet 1 inch to 5 feet 4 inches tall and is estimated to have weighed around 110 to 130 pounds. She had high cheekbones, dark hair, a dark complexion and a gap in her lower front teeth.

Doe had a lot of dental work done and had severe scoliosis; she probably walked with a limp. She was last seen wearing Levis, a gray shirt under a black cowboy vest, feather earrings and several rings.

Authorities traced the driver's route using fuel receipts. He left Villa Ridge, Mo., on May 7, 1991. On May 8, he possibly was in Concordia, Mo. Harvel was in Limon, Colo., on May 9, fueled up in Rock Springs, Wyo., just after noon on May 10 and reached Boise late that day. On May 12, he reached Baker City, Ore., and dropped off his load in Tacoma on May 14. The crash happened mid-afternoon that day, according to information provided by the State Patrol.

In January, investigators released an updated sketch of Doe by forensic artist Natalie Murry. Murry created the original sketch of Helen Doe and made the updated sketch using current techniques and skills. The new sketch came with the help of the group Lost and Missing in Indian Country, according to a news release from State Patrol.

Those with information about her case or think they may know who she is should contact Detective Stacy Moate at or 425-401-7745.

Yakima County case

Yakama Nation citizen and White Swan resident Patsy Whitefoot mentioned Helen Doe and Parker Doe when she spoke during the Aug. 1 release of the first interim report of the Washington State Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force. Whitefoot is co-chair of the task force executive committee.

Parker Doe was found in the Lower Yakima Valley on Feb. 16, 1988, close to a dirt road that leads from Parker Bridge Road to the Sunnyside Diversion Dam on the Yakima River. Believed to be 30 to 39 years old, Doe had black hair and was a petite woman, estimated to be around 5 feet tall and weighing less than 120 pounds. Though the cause of her death is undetermined, the manner is presumed homicide because of where Doe's skeletal remains were found.

Those with information about her case or think they may know who she is are asked to contact the Yakima County Coroner's Office at 509-574-1610 or the Yakima County Sheriff's Office at 509-574-2500.

In releasing their first interim report, task force members made 10 recommendations, including that the Washington attorney general's office establish a cold case investigation unit to focus on cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people.

Whitefoot has spoken with federal, state and county law enforcement about Helen Doe and Parker Doe, she said Aug. 1, and strongly recommended that investigators work to identify both women.

"I think it's important that we pay attention to these individuals, who have not been identified, Parker Doe and Helen Doe, because they do have Native ancestry and it's important to me that we continue to provide the resources that we can to also solve that," Whitefoot said.