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Florida deputies hope skeletal remains will help solve 40-year-old cold case

PUTNAM COUNTY, Fla. — Deputies in Putnam County are hoping skeletal remains will help them answer questions about a 40-year-old cold case.

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In 1981, deputies found a body in a wooded area 30 feet from Old San Mateo Road in East Palatka.

The body was that of a man who had no identification was nude and lying face down.

Photos: Florida deputies hope skeletal remains help solve 40-year-old cold case murder

The autopsy results were limited due to decomposition, and anthropological analysis was not available for skeletal remains at the time, officials said.

The man, simply known as “John Doe,” was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery and his case went cold.

In April, forensic investigator Madison Worley, with the Volusia County Medical Examiner’s Office, took over the unidentified cases for the office and began going through each one.

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“As I was going through, I found this case file set off to the side; and as I was looking through, it was very small and nothing really had been done with it since the 1980s. So I contacted Capt. (Chris) Stallings and both of us kind of went on an adventure,” Worley said.

After contacting multiple labs to see if any biological material was saved, Worley contacted Stallings to inform him she did not have any DNA to do testing.

“So I asked (Stallings) what was the possibility of exhuming him to get some samples to send of for DNA and genealogy,” Worley said.

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In July, Sheriff H.D. “Gator” DeLoach made the formal request for funding from the Florida Sheriffs Association Cold Case Advisory Commission, which is chaired by Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast.

Their effort led to a crew of about 20 detectives, forensic specialists from the University of South Florida, medical examiner personnel and others to gather last week at an unmarked plot in the far corner of Oak Hill Cemetery where “John Doe” was laid to rest more than 40 years prior, deputies said.

“This man was someone’s son,” DeLoach said. “Based on his approximate age, he could have been a father and a husband. He has family who never knew what happened to him, and they deserve to know. He deserves to have his name restored; and hopefully, this is the first step. We are extremely grateful to the Florida Sheriffs Association Cold Case Advisory Commission for providing funds to help us in this mission.”

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Officials said a few days earlier the ground was surveyed to denote the approximate area of John Doe’s location.

Once the initial ground was broken and several feet dug, shovels were then used to locate a Ziegler box, which was used instead of a casket at the time of burial.

Once the box was unearthed, Dr. Erin Kimmerle, of the University of South Florida, and her team of forensic anthropologists along with Worley opened the box and cut away the body bag to verify there were remains inside.

From there the medical examiner’s office took custody of John Doe’s skeletal remains for a wash prior to being sent to USF and the Florida Institute for Forensic Anthropology and Applied Science.

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Officials said the Sheriff’s Office is treating this case as a homicide because of how John Doe’s body was discovered.

Because of the advances in DNA technology, one goal is to identify John Doe’s family and return his remains to them, deputies said.

Officials said testing and imaging will take months.

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