• Ashley

Episode 2: Mark Ashland

Updated: Jun 16

On this episode of Washed Away, I’m gonna tell you about a John Doe whose story started out a lot like Mary Anderson’s… but recently ended very differently. This person also took their own life… in the month of October… in Seattle - but 12 years before Mary would check into her hotel room. The coincidences between this John Doe and Mary’s Jane Doe have led to theories about these cases possibly being connected, like maybe these people even knew each other!? But the main difference so far is that in this case, a family really was out there all along. Searching, hoping, and never giving up. And that’s how, after almost 4 decades, a John Doe became Mark Ashland.


Sources for this episode include: Websleuths, Public Health Insider, NAMI, Everyday Health, and The Doe Network. Big thanks to Hayley, Mark's niece, for telling me her family's incredible story. And thanks to you - for listening.


An important note: I didn’t plan on covering two suicide cases for the first couple episodes of this podcast, but May is Mental Health Awareness Month so I want to use this opportunity to offer some details and stats from NAMI: 1 in 5 Americans are affected by mental health conditions yet the stigma around depression, anxiety, and PTSD (just to name a few) creates an environment of shame, fear, and silence. It prevents those affected from seeking help. And in some cases, it even takes lives. Pledge to be stigma free and get more important information at nami.org. And If you have — or think you might have — a mental illness, please know that you are not alone.


Transcript-

Ashley:

On this episode of Washed Away. I'm going to tell you about a John Doe whose story started out a lot like Mary Anderson's, but recently ended very differently. This person also took their own life in the month of October in Seattle, but 12 years before Mary would check into her hotel room. The coincidences between this John Doe and Mary's Jane Doe, which we'll get into later, have led to theories about these cases possibly being connected and they've been talked about together for years. But the main difference between them so far is that particularly in this case, we now know that a family was out there all along searching, hoping and never giving up, and that's how this John Doe became Mark Ashland.

Ashley:

On October 9th, 1984 a man was found hanging from a maple tree in Carkeek Park, that's a forested area near the water in North Seattle. The man was about five 11,160 to 180 pounds, and anywhere between 18 and 35 years old. He had black hair with long sideburns and an olive complexion. He was actually really handsome. He wore blue jeans, sneakers, and a leather jacket. He had a watch on his wrist and a cigarette lighter was found in his pocket. But this man had no wallet, no license, no credit cards or any other way to identify him. The King County Medical Examiner's office took his fingerprints at the time, but unfortunately no match was found. So he became a John Doe. One of the thousands of unidentified people found in the United States each year.

Hayley:

I've always kind of been interested in true crime and I remember even started to watch Datelines and 20/20s and 48 Hour mysteries like in high school. And it was just something I always kind of looked forward to. My mom and I would watch them together and I always thought, you know, gosh, there's so many missing people out there and it always just made me think about my uncle.

Ashley:

That's Haley Andreasen. She lives in Texas and remembers growing up without knowing what happened to her uncle. A man she'd always heard about but never had the chance to meet. Because he moved to Seattle, Washington in the 1980s and then completely disappeared.

Hayley:

We'd be at my grandmother's house or my parents' house and it would get brought up - about my missing uncle named Mark. You know, what he was like. My grandmother had hired many different private investigators psychics, mediums, you name it. She had hired different people and there were just dead ends. I remember hearing that they struggled with law enforcement in Seattle because at that time, you know, he was a young adult and can make his own decisions and they didn't really take my grandparents seriously that he was in fact, a missing person.

Ashley:

According to a 2019 report from Vivint Source, Washington is among the top five States in the country with the most missing persons per capita. And the average age of those missing people is 34. That's absolutely in the adult age range. So why is it so hard to report an adult missing? Well, unlike children, adults have the legal right to go missing under most circumstances. If you're over the age of 18, you are within your right to completely fall off the grid. You can move to a different place, start a new life, change your name and never look back. But that's rarely the case. And while missing children reports must be reported to the National Crime Information Center, also known as NCIC. Missing adult reports are completely voluntary and if you listened to my conversation with Dr. Taylor on the last episode, you know how important a missing person report is when it comes to identifying Jane and John Doe's.

Hayley:

I ended up asking my father what he remembers of my uncle and he says, "well, you know, I'm the last one that actually saw him alive" I was like, what? Because I had known that when he went missing, he was in Seattle and obviously we didn't live there. He said, "yeah", he's like, "I was on a business trip. I had to go up to Seattle for business and I actually met up with your uncle. We went out and had dinner. I took him out to dinner and we had some beers." And so he said he just kind of seemed a little bit different. He felt like he was a little bit more reserved than normal and you know, didn't really talk about having friends. And he just said he remembered like that night being a little bit different in comparison to how he was when he knew him, before he moved to Seattle.

Ashley:

Can you tell me a little bit about what Mark was like? So those that knew him.

Hayley:

Mark was a very skilled, amazing, talented writer. That was his thing, was books. He was always reading, you know, and we kind of always joked like maybe, he's, Stephen King and he changed his name because he's such a gifted writer and he, he's out there, he's this famous writer and we just don't know. Cause back then he would, again he like loved to write. So he would write letters to everybody. My mom doesn't remember all the specifics. Slowly the letters stopped coming and then they started calling I guess, and, and writing to him and not hearing anything back. And luckily my mom had kept a letter that my grandmother had kept from him and it all fell in line just perfectly with the fact that the one letter that was kept, it has a date on it and it states in there that he spoke to my dad and he's excited to hoist some beers with him the next month when he's there for business, so like right then because of that letter, like I had a point of, okay, well dad was the last one to see him because I have this letter, now we know it was that month of that year. That was the last time someone physically saw him.

Ashley:

So now that Haley had a timeline to work off of, she could finally get started with finding her long lost uncle, something that she promised her family she'd do. And I asked her to walk me through the process of searching for someone like this. Not only decades later, but from thousands of miles away.

Hayley:

I just started searching the internet, you know, I typed his name in and I looked him up on all the social media sites and then I was like, okay, well I know there's John Does out there like maybe he's a John Doe that's just never been identified. I started searching through The Doe Network and NamUs and I searched for, you know, similar characteristics and things like that and that's how I found the unidentified man that would found in Carkeek Park and I saw the recreated sketch of him and saw the description with it. It was like my uncle "to a T". Everything I had seen in pictures my whole life, every way he was ever described to me. You know, he was tall, he had the same skin tone, darker, olive skin tone, complexion, high cheek bones that we have. He always wore a leather jacket and blue jeans. Most of the pictures, you know, that was his typical style. I was just like, if anybody, this could be him.

Ashley:

What was your reaction when you found the unidentified John Doe in Seattle from 1984? Did you immediately grab your mom or were you hesitant at all?

Hayley:

I immediately was like, Oh my goodness, and I know this is a recreated drawing, but to me it was like an immediate, Oh my, I knew in my head, it's almost like I just knew. And I did, I sent it off to my mom and said, what do you think? Look at the description and what it says about him and what he was wearing. "Yeah, I can see it," you know, and I think part of it was that, you know, she didn't want to accept that, you know, she wanted to rather think he was just out there and we didn't know where or why he wasn't communicating versus you know, the reality of, Oh my goodness, this really might be my brother.

Ashley:

I can understand your mom's maybe kind of hesitation cause it's one thing to have your brother be missing, but it's another, I don't know, that would be so hard because you would want to know an answer but the answer isn't necessarily what you were hoping for I'm sure.

Hayley:

I mean I think most of my family just kind of accepted the fact that they knew he probably wasn't alive, but not having that 100% confirmation. I think, you know, that was still always bothersome. And I know before my grandma died and before my grandpa died, you know that was always something they were upset about, but they never had an answer to that.

Ashley:

Now with a possible match found for Mark, Haley contacted the Seattle Police Department and told them her story. She was finally able to report her uncle as missing after 35 years. But it took diligent work on her part and she struggled with the same issues that her grandparents did back in the eighties as she told me at first no one acted like they wanted to help her and each step forward she took seem to lead nowhere.

Hayley:

And then my mom took a DNA swab for NamUs, set it up for the detective, to take the DNA swab from her. We were hoping that obviously I know the DNA they had collected from this John Doe would be in their system and they could go ahead and compare it and come to find out that there were a few different unidentified persons in the eighties that the King County Medical Examiner lost their DNA. And Mark just happened to be one that they couldn't find it or it was miscataloged. So that was kind of a dead end. We, you know, we were like, okay, well what's the next step? And unfortunately it was having to potentially exhume the body, come to find out he was the fourth body down, which obviously costs the state government a lot of money to exhume a body, not to mention these four down. And you would have to be able to get approval of the three people buried above him, of their next of kin, to even exhume them to get Mark's.

Ashley:

That's horrifying. So there are, there's like four people stacked on top of each other in a grave? Oh my God.

Hayley:

Yes, he's the fourth body down. So that was another kind of kick to the gut. I remember my mom crying multiple times like "see, I just knew this was going to happen. Like this is what your grandma and we all dealt with for years and you just can't get anywhere and it's just one obstacle after another."

Ashley:

But things finally started to happen for Haley's family when Mark's case was brought to the forensic anthropologist for King County, someone you might remember, here's Dr. Kathy Taylor again.

Dr. Taylor:

In that case we did not have anything for DNA and I so, I sort of had to think outside the box. So I asked the family if they had any letters that he had sent them and in fact they did have a letter that they had, he had sent three years prior and I in the case file had a fingerprint card that was, his fingerprints were taken when he was autopsied. So I submitted them to the latent print unit, both the letter and the print card for the King County AFIS unit. And those amazing people who were able to lift a latent print off a letter that was matched to the print card. And that's how we, IDed him.

Ashley:

What was it like to finally get that confirmation from Dr. Taylor?

Hayley:

It, it was like shock. I mean, as much as I knew in my heart that I felt like I was in the right, I was on the right path and like we knew this had to be him. It was still like shock, awe, that like our technology now, you know, almost 40 years later picked up a fingerprint. I mean amazingly, it was kept in the same envelope, so it was pretty well preserved and it was such a relief on my part because I kept promising my mom that I'm not, I'm not gonna stop till I get an answer or stop trying and I'm not going to let all these roadblocks get in the way. Like my grandmother and grandpa had to fight through. And like all the issues we had, like I was just determined to get some closure on it. And so for me it was kind of like bittersweet because it felt so good to have done all this work and research and all the time was spent was worth it.

Hayley:

And it was just a really nice thing to know that this like lifelong family mystery has been solved even though it's not the best scenario. At least we know it's not my uncles out there. My mom's brother's out there and he's just choosing not to have a relationship with us. And that's kind of the hard thing. I think it was trying to think like if he's really out there, why wouldn't he have reached out all these years later, no matter what it was. I mean we thought was he in witness protection, you know, these are all the things that go through your head. So it was just, it was bittersweet to finally have a conclusion.

Ashley:

So now Haley's family had finally found out what happened to Mark. But the answer they'd been looking for all this time just brought with it a dozen more questions. And so when you were getting close and and you know, going through The Doe Network and all of these websites and databases, were you thinking that it was like an accidental death or that maybe he was murdered or like you said, in witness protection, like was suicide kind of the last thought?

Hayley:

Absolutely, yes. It was sad to know that my uncle, succumbed in that manner because we don't know why that would even, that would even make sense for like there were no outward symptoms or signs that there was any kind of depression.

Ashley:

Remember what Haley's dad said about the last time he saw Mark? He seemed different. He had moved to a new city alone and probably spent most of his free time writing since that was his passion and because Mark was a writer, I wanted to talk about the connection between writers and depression. Of course not all writers are depressed and you don't have to be depressed to be a writer, but I did find some interesting reasons as to why writers might be prone to depression. An article from Everyday Health that came out in 2014 noted that most writers live pretty solitary lives. They usually write alone, maybe even late into the night or all night long, which throws off their sleep schedule and prevents them from interacting with people they'd usually see during the day. Both a lack of sleep and lack of social interaction can lead to depression.

Ashley:

Writers tend to spend a lot of time with their characters as well. Characters usually filled with complex thoughts and feelings, including misery and pain and suffering. I mean, of course that depends on what you're writing about, but identifying with a character like that can definitely cause your mood to shift. I know after I've read a really good book or watched an intense TV show, it can take days or weeks for me to get over the sudden overwhelming sadness that I felt just from consuming the story. I'm sure the same can be said for the person who wrote it. That Everyday Health article also mentioned that the life of a writer can be an emotional roller coaster, always dealing with rejection from editors, agents, publishers. It's definitely not an easy gig. Many famous writers have discussed their struggles with depression, including F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, JK Rowling, and Sylvia Plath. During our conversation, Haley read me a snippet from one of Mark's letters and a certain part stood out.

Hayley:

I'll just kind of read this part to you cause this will show you like his ability to write: "Just a little note to tell you what a pleasant surprise your birthday package was. When I arrived home from work in the late afternoon of the 27th it had not yet occurred to me that this was indeed my birthday. Amazing, isn't it? It was only when I saw the mysterious brown package stopped against my door, that the significance of the day dawned on me. As if on cue, an almost wistful melancholy descended on me. It was not a moment I shall soon forget. Regarding the shirt itself, it shouldn't be too embarrassing wearing it late at night in the privacy of my own apartment" and then he puts in parentheses: "Just kidding. Really. It's very nice."

Ashley:

He had forgotten his own birthday or at least he said he did and you'd really have to be stuck in your own head or your own world to not realize the date, especially an important date, like your birthday. Right? That seemed like a red flag to me, but I didn't know Mark... So I'm just going off of what I've heard so far and what my research in this case would suggest. Suicide is technically listed as Mark's cause of death by the medical examiner, but there were a few strange circumstances surrounding his initial disappearance that are definitely worth noting.

Hayley:

My great uncle Don took his family and on a road trip and drove up from Texas to Seattle and went to the last known address for Mark. And this was the summer of 1984 and my great uncle Don spoke to the landlord and the landlord did confirm that somebody by the name of Mark Ashland was his tenant. And so he did leave a note on the door. You know, saying, "Hey, it's your uncle Don, you know, here's the information, the hotel, we're here, give us a call." And til he died. Like he said, that was like his biggest regret was leaving and not waiting there that day for him because they went back there the next day because they hadn't heard from him. And the apartment had been completely cleaned out and whoever it was, Mark or whoever had left and never contacted my uncle. And interestingly enough, that was a few months before this gentleman was found- or my uncle was found in Carkeek Park.

Ashley:

Quick side note for this next part, Detective Enriquez was one of the people at the Seattle Police Department working with Haley to help find Mark.

Hayley:

So it's kind of interesting cause I have some emails from Detective Enriquez and one of them is in regards to that he reached out to the social security administration regarding Mark's social security number and it says in this email "it appears that your uncle may have been ahead of the times and had his number blocked along with his date of birth." And so like I thought that was interesting. Like what do you mean blocked? So then we started thinking more along the lines of, okay, is this some kind of witness protection? But even if it was like why didn't he reach out to us all these years later? So then about a couple of days later, a week later I got another email from him that says: "note - the IRS is also perplexed that they can't find your uncle's social security number. So now they are diligently looking. Hmm with a question mark." So after speaking to him, like he was shocked too. Like there was literally no record of my uncle even being alive cause no driver's license information. I mean he couldn't even find a social security number with his name and date of birth. So obviously there was no taxes being filed. It was almost like somebody just erased my uncle.

Ashley:

If you're wondering what it means to block your social security number or why a social would disappear. It turns out you can choose to block electronic access to your social security record and when you do this, no one including you, will be able to see or change your personal information. You'd want to do this if you've been the victim of domestic violence, if you have been the victim of identity theft or if you had just any reason you didn't want your record to be available. It kind of makes me wonder if after 1984, after Mark had passed away, someone found and used his social security number for some kind of identity theft and then that person was caught and the number was blocked because of it. I don't know if that's the kind of thing you keep records of. But otherwise the only explanation is that it was lost somehow, which seems kind of unbelievable.

Hayley:

Who's not to say they didn't just chalk this up as another suicide and didn't really investigate whether there could have been foul play? Because you know, it's just weird that he would disappear off the planet. Not talk to his family. His apartment would be cleared out.. Unless maybe he was hiding or running from something or somebody and he didn't want his family involved because he was worried for their safety. I mean it's, there's just all these very weird, crazy things.

Ashley:

Remember at the beginning when I mentioned how some people think that Mary Anderson and Mark Ashland maybe knew each other or that their cases were connected somehow? That's been a big theory over the years. In fact, I found Haley and heard about Mark's story for the first time while I was doing research on Mary. So could they have known each other? Probably not, but obviously it can't be ruled out. And there's some odd coincidences: like their initials, Mark Ashland, Mary Anderson, M.A. There's the maple thing. Mark was found at a maple tree. Mary had maple leaves in her room. Both of their deaths are considered suicides and if that's the case, they both chose the date October 9th as their last on this earth. Makes you wonder what the significance of that day is, if there is any. Both were of course anonymous for a long time. Mary still is, and they were both laid to rest at Crown Hill Cemetery, maybe even in the same grave. That detail when I was talking to Hailey just really blew my mind.

Ashley:

And if they did know each other that might explain some things about Mary, it would explain the date she chose or the city she chose. Or maybe the initials she chose, I mean his death could have influenced her decisions and her death. But again, that's really going out on a limb trying to connect these two cases. All of those coincidences are why the unidentified man found in Carkeek Park in 1984 has always been brought up when people talk about the Jane Doe, formerly known as Mary Anderson. But now thanks to a determined family that man is no longer unidentified and he's finally able to stand out on his own apart from Mary as the incredibly loved and very much missed, Mark Ashland.

Ashley:

So even though Mark's case is technically solved at this point, I still wanted to cover it because again, it gives me hope for Mary. And because the story of Mark getting his name back is one that just deserves to be told in my opinion, for him, for his family and for anyone who's curious what the process is like to find a missing person and identify a Jane or John Doe. I really can't thank Haley enough for talking to me and sharing her journey about how she got to this point. Now we just have to sit back and hope that there's someone out there like Haley who can do the same for Mary Anderson.

Ashley:

May is Mental Health Awareness month, so I want to use this opportunity to offer some details and stats from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. At least one in five Americans are effected by mental health conditions, yet the stigma around depression, anxiety, and PTSD, just to name a few, creates an environment of shame, fear, and silence. It prevents those effected from seeking help and in some cases it even takes lives. If you have or think you might have a mental illness, please know that you are not alone. I myself have suffered from anxiety my entire life and I've gone through bouts of depression that I wouldn't wish on anyone and it hasn't gone unnoticed. That even though I didn't plan on covering two suicides for my first couple episodes of Washed Away, that it ended up being, those were the ones I was drawn to and wanted to tell the most. If you want to pledge to be stigma free and get more important information about mental illness, you can do that anytime at nami.org N A M I dot org

Ashley:

Washed Away is a Cosmic Bigfoot production. You can find sources and show notes, that means relevant photos and links over at washedawaypodcast.com and you can follow the show on Instagram and Twitter at washedawaypod. Be sure to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts, and if you can take a moment to leave a rating or review and help this brand new podcast grow. I'm your host Ashley Smith, and I'll have another episode for you in a couple of weeks. Thanks for listening.

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