Man reported missing in 2017 identified as body found in tree

By Jeannie McMacken

Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — A man whose body was found suspended in a tree at Fort Worden State Park on Jan. 13 has been identified as a man reported missing from Port Townsend over a year ago.

Mitchell D. Hamilton, 57, was positively identified Tuesday through medical records. The cause of death was reported as suicide by asphyxiation.

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Detective Shane Stevenson said Hamilton’s family lives in eastern Washington and Idaho.

“They have asked to be respected during this time,” he said. “They are having a hard time with the news, but are glad to have an answer as to what happened to Mitchell.”

Hikers in Fort Worden near Battery Brannan in the Artillery Hill area saw something unusual perched high in a tree and called authorities. On arriving at the scene, Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputies and Port Townsend police determined that a climber’s hammock was tied into a tree about 40 feet above the battery.

Stevenson said Sgt. Mark Apeland climbed the tree and cut a limb to remove the hammock and remains.

He said the hammock was secured to the tree with “expertly tied knots that were meticulously done,” leading investigators to believe the person responsible knew something about working with ropes.

Stevenson said it appeared the man did not want to be found.

“The color of the hammock and the ropes blended into the surroundings,” Stevenson said. “Even the color of his clothing was gray. He did not want to be observed.”

Stevenson said there were no signs of foul play and that the body had been in the tree for an extended period of time.

Detective Jon Stuart attended the autopsy at Kosek Funeral Home on Jan. 16.

Stevenson said additional photos Stuart made during the autopsy were instrumental in providing a lead for identification.

“The body had hardware installed that indicated the victim had broken his jaw,” Stevenson said.

Hamilton had been reported missing Oct. 20, 2017. Formerly of Kingston, where he lived on a boat for 19 years, he would come to Port Townsend occasionally for work in the building trades.

He moved to Port Townsend exclusively two years ago and was reportedly living in a storage unit in the Glen Cove area.

A loner who often left the area for extended periods to go hiking, Hamilton was a regular for breakfast at the Spruce Goose Café. When he did not show up for several days and was not responding to calls, he was reported missing.

“We don’t have a lot of missing persons in Port Townsend, so Mitchell was an obvious possibility in this case,” Stevenson said.

“He was a loner and seemingly did not want to be found. We did not find an id, wallet, or cell phone. The hard drive in computer had been removed. His local friends said he had been known to leave the area to go on hiking trips, but always returned.”

His friends also told Stevenson that if Hamilton “wanted to disappear, no one would ever be able to find him.”

Stevenson said that inside Hamilton’s storage unit was a receipt for climbing rope. He noticed that all the ropes found were tied with meticulous knots, similar to those found at the scene.

He asked friends if Hamilton had ever broken his jaw and they said he had about five years ago.

“I contacted Bremerton to see if I could get X-rays that matched the hardware we recovered. We visited Katherine Taylor, forensic pathologist at the King County Medical Examiner’s Office at Harborview Medical Center Tuesday. She took additional x-rays of the victim’s jaw.

“The tissue along gum lines leaves a distinctive signature on an X-ray and this, combined with all the other evidence we had, led us to conclude with no doubt that it was Mitchell.”

Stevenson said given the amount of decomposition of the body, the timing seemed to fit that he was deceased when reported missing.

Stevenson led Hamilton’s disappearance investigation from its beginning.

“Technically this was a cold case, but I kept it open,” Stevenson said. “I kept Mitchell’s picture on my desktop, and every day his photo was there when I opened my computer.

“It was a tragic outcome. But for the family, they have closure. They have all the answers now.”