Rock County Coroner's Office has new hope in cold case

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Frank Schultz
Thursday, May 29, 2014

JANESVILLE--Investigators have new hope they might be able to identify a body found near Clinton nearly 19 years ago.

The hope hinges on people's memories and a scientific test that could reveal where the person spent his childhood.

A hunter found the body near Turtle Creek in the town of Bradford in November 1995. The coroner's office refers to the body as John Clinton Doe, or JCD.

Rock County Chief Deputy Coroner Lou Smit said the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute in Washington, D.C., has agreed to analyze a bone sample from the body.

The Smithsonian lab will conduct “stable isotope analysis,” which could determine the region where JCD grew up.

“The assumption is he was from the United States, but he could be a Mexican national, for all we know,” Smit said.

Once the body's origins are known, the coroner's office will distribute flyers in that region in hopes they will jog someone's memory.

Key players in the investigation are Jack Friess, a volunteer deputy coroner who has spent nine months on the case, and Dr. Thomas Haas, a pathologist at Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center.

Mercy donated the use of its autopsy suite, where Haas removed a small sample from a leg bone about a month ago.

Friess had read how the Smithsonian lab helped solve a cold murder case in Kentucky, so he contacted a doctor at the lab, who agreed to do the analysis.

Stable isotope analysis can eliminate about 75 percent of North America in determining where someone spent his childhood years, according to a news release from the coroner's office.

Test results could be ready this summer, Smit said.

Investigators initially believed JCD was 15 to 23 years old, but that might have been a misinterpretation of a forensic anthropologist's report, Friess said.

Friess said he believes the correct interpretation was that the body was of an 18-year-old, plus or minus 1.75 years, or in the 17-20 age range.

Friess said there's a big difference between an 18-year-old and a 23-year-old, and JCD's body showed bone development of someone in his teens.

Smit on Thursday released two artist's renderings of what JCD might have looked like.

One was a sketch produced in 1996. That sketch was from a description by someone who might have seen JCD alive, but it's not clear who that person was.

The witness had seen a man running in Turtle Creek and acting drunk in October 1994, and the theory was that this was JCD.

However, the man seen in the creek could have been a different person, Friess noted.

The second drawing was done recently by a forensic artist, based on photographs of JCD's skull.

The skull was cremated by a previous coroner for reasons Smit does not know. The rest of the remains—mostly bones—were preserved.

A sketch artist from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children used photographs to make the second sketch of a younger JCD, Smit said.

Friess has checked missing-persons reports from across the country over the past nine months. He has eliminated 59 potential matches to JCD through DNA, dental or analyses.

The body apparently went undiscovered for months and was largely decomposed, Friess said. Death was estimated to have occurred about a year before the body was found.

The cause of death was never determined. There were no obvious signs of injury, and the cause might have been natural, Smit said.

Or it could have been a homicide or suicide, Friess said.

The body is the only unidentified person known to the coroner's office. The county does have unsolved homicides, but the victims in those cases have been identified, Smit said.

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