Nathanial "Terry" Deggs
The front of Terry's home
It's In 2015 and we zero in on Mill Creek Washington, about a half hour outside of Seattle. There's about 19k people in 2015, so its a pretty good sized town. We are on a property next to a north creek park, I think its a county park, there's a few walking trails but its mostly wetlands. But this particular property is privately owned and that has an orchard on it, as well as a house that is being rented out. and there's a few extra outbuildings and some other woody areas in it. Now on January 11th 2015, two homeless men walking through these woods notice a shed that's been overgrown and they are curious … and decided to investigate. They open the door find a whole bunch of empty cans and papers and others debris. And they also find a makeshift mattress with some blankets on top of it and underneath there are human remains. They leave the property talk to another friend and my friend calls the police just tell them about what they found.
Police come to the property and they cant find it be its all overgrown… but they get the reporter to help them and eventually, they find the remains. The medical examiner is called, and thus begins our story.
Our John Doe is wearing dark wool socks plaid flannel shirt black T-shirt, and tan pants. the medical examiner thinks this is a male, and he's been dead for over a year. they believe he's about 5 foot 10 5 foot 11, and he's African-American. He's got a healed nasal nasal fracture, lumbar scoliosis, and arthritis they also made him to be over 50 maybe as old as 65 years old when he passed.
There is no foul play suspected though; they think maybe he was living in this the shed and maybe he just passed of natural causes. But who is he? They interview the person who's living there plus the owner of the property, and find out there was a guy that lived in the shed for a while - for years actually - but after not seeing him for a while, maybe he just up and left one day and loved on. The renter hadn't been in the shed for a long time because he let the man keep to himself, and Must have felt there was no reason to intrude so he never went back there.
So police are given the name of Jerry ...Jerry Diggs ...Jerry Deggs … and that's all police have to go on. There's no identifying information in the shed itself. Soon enough the police think to themselves, hey we know a guy like that. And they look back on their police reports over the last 2 years and they do find reports that were created with the name Jerry Diggs born in May 45, Jerry Deggs born in December 1949, and Jeremy Diggs born New Year's Eve 1950.
Aside from not knowing what to do with the remains, they also want to notify his family to pay their condolences. So they have to keep digging. They were able to extract a DNA sample, and they tried it in CODIS, but there were no hits. So this man was not a known perpetrator, or a victim that had ended up in the system. They also contact the local Social Security office, to see if this description fits any of their clients ...maybe collecting food stamps over the years? No luck. So they think, well we've got these papers and these old tin cans, maybe we can get some fingerprints and do some fingerprint search? From the remains themselves, they're not able to get any fingerprints because the body is so decomposed, so they have to use the junk found in the shed. Well the shed had been untouched for over a year from what they estimate. They do come up with two good fingerprint samples but nothing matched in any missing persons database.
Eventually John Doe comes to be known as the Mill Creek shed man. Now there are some people From Mill Creek that call in try to help identify him but nothing comes of it. They put an ad in the newspaper in 2016 again, some tips come in but no leads to come to anything. In 2017 a local artist created a sketch based off of the skull. This is something much like Frank Bender did with the Boy under the Billboard on a previous episode. And it does turn out to be pretty close to who this man turns out to be.
So sometime towards the end of 2017 and into 2018 the DNA Doe project has the case, but they to fundraise. Time goes by, and “Jerry” is fully funded in Spring of 2018… and they can begin the next step of getting a better extraction of DNA from his bones. DNA doe project assigns a volunteer, her name is Jenny Lecus. I believe it's l e c u s, she takes on the case but it's going to be another year-and-a-half before she's able to find out who he really is. She does check all the databases she can, and she does come up with some centimorgan hits for him. But they are like five generations back and every time she thinks she's on a good path, she cannot find the next step in the family tree to be able to determine if she's on the right branch of the family tree. So instead, she just decides she's going to check GEDmatch every few days every day to see if maybe a closer relative has uploaded their information into the database. A year and half goes by, and she’s thinking about this man all time. What wa she like when he was alive? Doe she have a Family that misses him? What kind of music do you like? Kind of foods to be like? What kind of life experiences and stories does he have? How did he get to the shed on an orchard farm in Washington? Well, finally her patience and daily monitoring pays off, for her at the end of 2019. Jenny she gets on the phone with a woman and says hey do you know a guy named Jerry Jerry Diggs? And the woman says, well not a Jerry, we had a Terry, he’s my cousin’s son. And his actual name is Nathaniel.
And on Monday December 23rd 2019 the Snohomish County Medical examiner's Office announces that the Millcreek shadman is actually Nathaniel Terrance Dex.
Awesome! He finally has his name! Its four years later for the town of mill creek, but we'll see it’s much longer that his family had to wait to find out where their brother went.
Lecus had been checking gedmatch for the last year and a half, essentially waiting for a closer relative than a 5th generation relative that she was finding. She would try to work the leads, but the last names kept changing, from davy, to davis. She couldn’t find him in public records to be sure who she was looking at was the mill creek man. Baltimore didn't have birth certificates that timeframe any more. Her attempts at finding activity on his social security card wasn't finding him either.
In the meantime, his biological family actually tried to find him too. They'd even hired a private investigator.
Then one morning, it was there. In the end it was his birth mothers cousin that DDP volunteer Lecus called.
So who is Terry Deggs? Nathaniel Terrance Deggs was born in Baltimore Maryland on December 31st 1949. He was the second child of a teenage mother who would end up having 12 kids altogether. Wow 12 kids! At some point during his younger years he was placed in a foster home, but luckily for him, this was a good foster home. They treated him well, and he became very attached to the mother of the family. And at a certain point, the Deggs family decided to move up to New York, and either the courts or his biological mother, not sure which, allowed him to go with them. So most of Terry's Coming of Age years and early adult years were spent in the Bronx. Years go by and he grows up, but he is keeping in touch with his biological family to a certain extent. We find out that one of his biological sisters did go up to New York to visit him once and she tells us that he was working as a security guard at a bank.
Sadly, in 1984 Ms Deggs, his foster mother, passes away. And he takes it pretty hard. So hard in fact, that shortly after that, he just up and leaves town. But he doesn't go back down to Maryland to reunite with his biological family. It's not known what happens to him or what he does for the next year but in October of 1985 a dentist who owns an orchard about half hour outside of Seattle finds a starving man on his property squatting in a rundown shed. So somehow or another he made it all the way out across the country from New York to Washington. but unfortunately from the state he was in according to the dentist it was not a good trip he was hard on this lock and he was in really bad shape. to the dentist. He doesn't take them off the property, but instead he brings them to his own home and he feeds him and he invites him to stay as long as he needs. No Terry is going to introduce himself as Jerry Digg, but he does tell the truth about where he came from. He tells the dentist that he's come from New York and he used to be a security guard. He says at one point there was a robbery in the bank and he got hit on the head really hard.
So now Jerry is staying in the shed on this private property for years. To the dentist while he put them to work they have like a back and forth relationship. He says you do some stuff for me on the property you do some Landscaping some general fixing up And then you can stay on the property. And he actually gets really close to the family. He cooks dinner for them from time to time and he also babysits the kids when he is asked. And the dentist also fixes his teeth! This is just such a sweet story I think. What would you do if you had some wandering homeless man show up on your property squatting in one of your outbuildings? This could have definitely gone South and been a different type of episode. How many true crime stories do we hear about someone who shows up and is down on their luck, and homeowner say we can take him in Let's help him and then things ended badly. It's really nice to see a situation like this where this man forms a relationship with a homeless man, and even comes to trust him enough to babysit his children.
After a while the dentist decides he's going to move off the property, but keep it… just rent it out. So when he shows the house to a prospective tenant, he tells them, there a guy in back…he's cool…. you can't kick him out. So Jerry - Terry - ends up living in that shed for the next 30 years. 30YEARS! And the tenants, when they are interviewed, say he hardly ever left the shed. So how do you live like that? He is off the grid, but how is he taking care of himself?
We hear from one of the tenants from the 90s. James Prater rented the house in 1996 so he can tell us the main point. He said he didn't interact with Jerry much, but they did get along. When Jerry did leave the shed, he would be doing some landscaping work for the dentist, or he would just wander around the orchard, taking in nature and eating the fruit from the orchard. Doesn't that sound like the life? Wellll…. There’s no phone, so no podcasts! Yikes! No electricity… No running water… so no shower and toilet.
Once, the roof on top of the shed caught fire and the fire dept had to come put it out. They told him he could have the wood stove in there anymore. So James Prater gave him an electric skillet for cooking his food in and a small space heater, and he ran an extension cord for the main house to shed for him. He brought Jerry Christmas dinner that year. Prater characterized Jerry as “kind of slow.”
There were times when he'd be walking on the highway near the property, looking like he was loitering, and the police would stop and talk with him. they would write up reports but they never had another actual reason to take him in. So he was never charged with anything, even though his name was in police records. So this is just another way to show that he's a nice guy. He might have issues, feeling like can't take care of himself in a “civilized society.” Maybe he wasn't able to hold a full-time job anymore. But at the same time it sounds like he had a pretty nice life, the way that he decided he wanted to live it.
So we do have some questions here, maybe they’ll be answered one day, maybe they won't be. Maybe some of the answers are not for us to know. Did he get paid with money? Did he go shopping? Did the tenant do his shopping for him? Or was he paid with food? Did the dentist keep coming by and hanging out with him? Did he get lonely? Did he miss his family? Did he ever want to get back east but felt that he couldn’t? So many questions!
Now of course this is all speculation because we have very limited information about him, And he was such an isolated person throughout the second half of his life. But I wonder if he did have a traumatic brain injury From that robbery out in New York, did he Did he have trouble living on his own? Did he have trouble Fending for himself? And so when his mom died Maybe he just decided he needed to go somewhere where he was on his own. Maybe he started out homeless in the Bronx and then maybe somehow eventually, Hitchhiking or who knows what maybe that's how he ended up out west. We'll never really know unless somehow somewhere someone hears his story And says I know that man. And tells his part of the story of having known him between 1984 and 1985. But I think it's a pretty long shot. There's a lot of different ways his life could have gone. What if it came across too many bad people on his way out west? What if the dentist wasn't a nice dentist? And I'm sure not all of his stories were great stories; I'm sure he had a lot of pain in his life. But I do like to think that there were times when he did find joy, and he did have contentment In the life that he had when he was out there in Washington.. And I just hope that he was able to find peace before he died.
And that is the case of the Mill Creek Shed Man.