Police identify homicide victim found in Flagstaff woods from 2020 cold case

Jun 20, 2023, 8:00 PM | Updated: Jun 21, 2023, 6:05 am

(Coconino County Sheriff's Office photo)...

(Coconino County Sheriff's Office photo)

(Coconino County Sheriff's Office photo)

PHOENIX — A recent DNA discovery helped the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office crack a three-year-old cold case.

In Oct. 2020, police encountered a mystery in the form of a dead camper found in a shallow grave north of Flagstaff. The body a hunter found buried in a wooded area off Highway 180 near the Lava River Cave had been decomposing for so long that it was unidentifiable.

Investigators knew the person was a homicide victim — but they didn’t have a name they could use as a lead.

In May 2021, they sent a DNA sample to a private forensic genealogy lab. It took three years for the sample to bear fruit. In the meantime, the sheriff’s office issued a missing person alert for David Clark Wilkinson, a camper who frequented Phoenix and Prescott trails in 2019 and 2020.

As it turns out, they had already found him.

Breakthrough in 2020 camper cold case

The lab connected the DNA sample to a specific family tree in Jan. 2023.

“Shortly after releasing the missing persons flyer, additional DNA analysis was conducted and confirmed David Clark Wilkinson was the homicide victim in this case,” the Sheriff’s Office announced on Tuesday.

David was 56 when he died. He stood at around 5’11 inches tall and weighed around 165 pounds. He wore glasses, had gray hair and a beard and may have been traveling with one or two dogs.

“It is believed he was camping in the Prescott National Forest and the Coconino National Forest and may have approached other campers in those areas,” the announcement said.

Police say he may have been driving a 1997 Toyota Paseo similar to this photo:

Arizona camper cold case victim found in Flagstaff named in 2023

(Coconino County Sheriff’s Office photo)

Now that police found their victim, they’re trying to find their perpetrator. Anyone with information that can help the case can contact the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office at (928) 774-4523 or

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Police identify homicide victim found in Flagstaff woods from 2020 cold case