After 2 years, identity of Bothell skeleton is confirmed

Michael Powell went missing in the 1990s. Detectives have named a person of interest, but no one has been arrested.

BOTHELL — Almost 30 years after Michael Powell went missing in the early 1990s, a skeleton was unearthed in a yard behind a Bothell-area home.

It took another two years to finally confirm his identity through DNA, according to the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Investigators are still working to find out who killed him.

In May 2019, detectives got a tip that Powell’s body was buried just north of Bothell, in a yard in the 19900 block of Eighth Avenue SE. The tipster was right. A forensic examination suggested the bones were a match for Powell.

Snohomish County sheriff’s detectives publicly identified a person of interest in the homicide investigation in 2019. Richard “Rick” Nelson once told his ex-wife about a “dark family secret,” she wrote in court papers in late 2018. Nelson reportedly said he’d buried a man’s body in a yard in the Bothell area, at a house he and his mother lived in for years.

Nelson reportedly told her his mother had shot and killed the man in the basement, and that he buried the body in the backyard and put lime or lye on it to “help keep the smell down.”

“It made me extremely nervous and fearful,” the woman wrote. “He told me not to tell. It was hard knowing that there was a body buried in my back yard where my children played.”

Civil court records suggest Nelson’s mother lived at a house in the neighborhood for years in the 1990s. A public alert was sent in May 2019 out that investigators were looking for Nelson, and he contacted sheriff’s detectives within hours. He was not arrested.

As of this month, Nelson was still considered a person of interest, Snohomish County sheriff’s spokesperson Courtney O’Keefe said.

“Detectives believe he was either directly involved or has direct knowledge of what occurred,” O’Keefe said.

Nelson, 45, has ties to Pierce County.

Powell’s family last heard from him in the early 1990s.

The medical examiner’s office also confirmed this month that the manner of death was homicide. Authorities declined to release the cause of death out of concern for the ongoing investigation.

Exactly how long ago the bones were buried is uncertain, but it was clear the remains had been in the ground a long time, said Jane Jorgensen, a death investigator with the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Soon after the remains were excavated, the sheriff’s office announced that they appeared to be those of Powell, while noting the identity still needed to be confirmed.

Jorgensen obtained Powell’s medical records — including X-rays and dental reports — but could not identify him through those documents. A lab tried to extract DNA from toenails but could not. Jorgensen sent a femur bone to a lab at the University of North Texas, and two of Powell’s family members sent DNA samples to the lab.

The lab compared the genetic profiles, confirming the remains were Powell’s.

“It’s a relief to be able to tell the family,” Jorgensen said.

Any tips about the case can be directed to the sheriff’s office at 425-388-3845.

Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486;; Twitter: @reporterellen.