Special Reports

Puyallup police request DNA test in case of teen missing since '92

Puyallup police have requested a DNA test that could shed new light on the unsolved 1992 disappearance of Misty Copsey.

“This is an active investigation, not a cold case,” deputy chief Bryan Jeter said this week. “It is an open, ongoing investigation as far as the Puyallup Police Department is concerned.”

The test by the Washington State Patrol crime laboratory will examine hair recovered from jeans identified as the Puyallup teen’s, recovered east of Enumclaw on Feb. 7, 1993.

“That’s great – that’s progress,” Diana Smith, Misty’s mother, said when told of the pending test.

Copsey, 14, disappeared after a visit to the Puyallup Fair on Sept. 17, 1992. She has not been heard from since, and no remains have been discovered, apart from the jeans, socks and underwear found by a party of volunteers.

A News Tribune series, “The Stolen Child,” published May 11, examined the history of the Copsey case and revealed numerous shortcomings in the police investigation. Lack of follow-up on the DNA test was one of them.

After publication of the series, police said they planned to seek the test swiftly. Bureaucracy delayed the process for several weeks, Jeter said. The jeans were in King County custody and Puyallup had to arrange a transfer of the evidence.

Direct custody helps police save time and pursue testing without King County serving as the go-between, he said.

The jeans were recovered 16 years ago, but the prospect of a DNA test did not emerge until 2007, according to Puyallup’s records of the investigation. As recently as 2005, police were told the crime lab could not complete a DNA profile based on material taken from the jeans, records state. Subsequent analysis led to a different conclusion.

While test results could show a link between Misty and the jeans, police worry that it won’t help. The jeans are dusted with controversy.

According to case records, police have long believed the jeans were planted as a ploy to force investigation. Police suspected Smith or amateur researcher Cory Bober, who led volunteers to the discovery.

Smith and Bober have repeatedly denied the allegation.

That long-standing suspicion colors possible test results. If hair from the jeans belongs to Misty or Smith or both, police see no potential progress. The planting question would remain unresolved.

If the test results show a link to another individual, that’s a different story, police said.

Jeter said he expected results on the test “as soon as possible. The crime lab has put a priority on this.”

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486