A mysterious suicide at a Washington state hotel.

An army of internet sleuths, working to identify the unknown man.

And now, a possible connection to New Mexico.

The mystery of a man known only as Lyle Stevik — believed to be an alias — started in September of 2001, when authorities in Grays Harbor County, Wash., responded to an emergency call from the Lake Quinault Inn in the tiny town of Amanda Park.

Police found a hotel guest dead inside his room.

Investigators quickly ruled the man’s death a suicide, said Lane Youmans, the former detective on the case for the Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Department. But they didn’t get much further than that.

“The part that has stuck with me, is that we’ve never been able to identify this gentleman,” Youmans told The New Mexican last week.

But just last month, volunteer investigators made a discovery that could prove invaluable. Using Stevik’s DNA, volunteers from a nonprofit called the DNA Doe Project are trying to track down Stevik’s potential family members.

They’ve found a cluster of potential matches in Northern New Mexico.

“We’re pretty confident that some of his ancestors, two or three generations back, were located in Northern New Mexico,” said Margaret Press, a genealogist and co-founder of the DNA Doe Project.

According to Youmans, various media reports and a supposed police report from the case that a concerned citizen uploaded online, the man had checked into the hotel under the name Lyle Stevik. He listed his address as Meridian, Idaho.

But detectives didn’t find any ID in the hotel room. The Idaho address turned out to be a hotel, investigators discovered. Staff there didn’t recognize the man.

The man didn’t have any identifying luggage, either. Among the change and toiletries in his hotel room, detectives found a crumpled piece of piece of paper that read “suicide” and a folded note with $160 inside that read “for the room.”

Stevik didn’t immediately match up with any missing persons reports in the Olympic Peninsula or beyond. His fingerprints didn’t show up in national databases. Nor did his DNA.

As for the name Lyle Stevik, Youmans thinks it was an alias — a reference to the book You Must Remember This, by Joyce Carol Oates. The character Lyle Stevick — a slightly different spelling — owns a furniture store and one night hangs a rope from the rafters and contemplates suicide.

Suicide attempts are prolific throughout the novel.

Youmans now works as the coroner in Grays Harbor County. In his spare time, he works on trying to determine the identities of a handful of bodies.

The man who called himself Lyle Stevik is one of them.

“Why hasn’t anyone reported him missing? Why was he able to disappear and no one has come looking for him? I’m stumped,” Youmans said. “… You get people who are estranged from their family … but this is different.

“I think that’s what piques the interest of many people,” he added. “This isn’t your usual type of case.”

Stevik’s death has inspired a cult-like following among armchair detectives and internet sleuths.

Facebook pages and Reddit forums have popped up, dedicated to unraveling the clues of Stevik’s identity. He even has a Wikipedia page and case followings on the site WebSleuths.com.

Thousands of people from around the world have joined the hunt — including Mary Fernandez, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and works in the tech industry. She stumbled across the Stevik mystery on Reddit a few years ago and began working to help solve the case as a hobby.

“Why have I gotten involved?” she asked in a phone interview. “That’s a good question. Everyone’s hobbies usually include traveling and cooking, and mine’s like solving cold cases, right?

“It kind of intrigued me about how this guy has just been unknown for so long,” Fernandez said. “If it was my family, they’d be getting the president involved trying to locate me.”

In the more than a decade that Stevik’s case has been generating interest online, internet followers have generated a slew of theories about his life, speculating on everything from the possibility that Stevik was involved in the 9/11 attacks days before his death to concern over whether he had an eating disorder.

So far, none of the clues or theories has led to an identity of the Quinault Inn John Doe.



But Press and Colleen Fitzpatrick of the DNA Doe Project hope that could change soon.

Their process for tracking Stevik’s DNA matches is similar to ones used by commercial genealogy sites like Ancestry.com and 23andMe.

The place they found the most potential relatives? Northern New Mexico.

The women worked with Grays Harbor authorities to get Stevik’s DNA sent to a laboratory, which conducted genome sequencing. Afterward, they uploaded his DNA profile to a website where they can compare it with that of other people who have had their own DNA tested.

The two women and volunteers at the DNA Doe project are still looking for the close family ties that could point to Stevik’s identity.

His DNA has given up some clues. The women are sure that Stevik was likely at least one-quarter Native American and one-quarter Spanish or Hispanic. His closest matches so far show up clustered in Northern New Mexico, with some in Idaho.

Their research hasn’t revealed where Stevik was born, at least not yet. But for the first time, they know where to search for his extended family.

“Before this, nobody knew where he came from,” Fitzpatrick said. “This narrows down the geography; it starts to give you places to look.”

Youmans is optimistic.

“This is about the best lead we’ve had in a long time,” he said. “… The way technology has advanced, I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to resolve this eventually.”

Youmans would like to be able to put a name on the unmarked grave at the Fern Hill Cemetery in Aberdeen, Wash., where the body was buried. He’d like to be able to tell the man’s family where he was laid to rest.

Fernandez thinks that’s the motivator for most of the web sleuths, too.

“There is a possibility that maybe the family doesn’t even know he went missing,” she said. “There are so many scenarios. But trying to give closure to the family is just the best goal we have.”

Contact Sami Edge at 505-986-3055 or sedge@sfnewmexican.com.

The Quinault Lake John Doe

Alias: Lyle Stevik

Age: Approximately 20-35

Hair: Black

Eyes: Hazel

Nose: Possibly broken at one time.

Teeth: Dental amalgam filling in tooth No. 14; four teeth were missing — Nos. 5, 12, 17 and 32

Features: Small scar from an appendix-removal surgery

Anyone with information is asked to call the Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Department at 360-249-3711.

Members of Northern New Mexico families who have already done DNA tests also can download their raw DNA files from Ancestry.com or 23andMe.com and then upload them to GEDmatch.com to help the DNA Doe project in its genetic search.

Suicide hotline

If you or a loved one is experiencing an emotional crisis, you can find help 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by calling the New Mexico Crisis and Access Line — 855-NMCRISIS (855-662-7474)

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