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DNA tests identify man and woman recovered from El Dorado County's Fallen Leaf Lake

Fallen Leaf Lake is about a mile south of Lake Tahoe.
Fallen Leaf Lake is about a mile south of Lake Tahoe.

Two bodies recovered from Fallen Leaf Lake in El Dorado County last year have been identified as those of a 71-year-old woman reported missing in 2001 and a 74-year-old man missing since 2004, the El Dorado Sheriff's Office announced Monday.

The bodies were recovered during searches conducted in August and October by Bruce's Legacy, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit organization that undertakes search and recovery operations in drowning cases in an effort to bring closure to families.

The California Department of Justice confirmed the identities through DNA tests, according to a Sheriff's Office news release.

The body of a woman recovered Aug. 29 was identified as that of 71-year-old Cynthia Ellis, also known as Cynthia Prehoda, of South Lake Tahoe. Ellis went missing in 2001 and was believed to have committed suicide by drowning in Fallen Leaf Lake. A forensic autopsy and examination by a forensic anthropologist were unable to determine the cause of death, the news release said.

The body of a man recovered Oct. 27 was identified through DNA as that of 74-year-old Michael Whalen, who went missing in 2004 after traveling to the Lake Tahoe area from Florida. He arrived in the area in his van, carrying a brown, wood-colored canoe. The van was located near Fallen Leaf Lake in late 2004, but the canoe was not found.

A small anchor and rope around Whalen's legs was consistent with an anchor used for a canoe, the news release said. A forensic autopsy and examination by a forensic anthropologist were not able to determine a cause of death, the Sheriff's Office reported.

The inability to determine the cause of death in each case was due to the condition of the remains, but there was no evidence of foul play, the news release said.

Ellis and Whalen's families were notified of the results.

The Fallen Leaf Fire Department, El Dorado County Search and Rescue, and the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office participated with Bruce's Legacy in the search and recovery efforts.

Anyone with information about Michael Whalen, the location of his canoe or any canoe found at Fallen Leaf Lake around 2004 or 2005 is asked to call El Dorado County Sheriff's Detective Rich Horn, 530-642-4729, or Detective Damian Frisby, 530-573-3022.

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