In April 1981, human skeletal remains were discovered by a mushroom hunter just off Interstate 55 near Oak Ridge, Missouri. Analysis at the time suggested that these were the postcranial remains of a male of European descent who stood approximately 5'10” and was between 20 and 40 years of age at the time of his death. His partial cranium was recovered in the same area in 1988. The decedent was wearing a leather belt, green pants, a khaki shirt, and black loafers adorned with a metal buckle. He died from a gunshot wound from a small caliber firearm. Initial attempts at extracting DNA and developing an STR profile were unsuccessful, and later attempts were only able to develop a minimal STR profile. A mitochondrial DNA profile was developed and entered into CODIS. The case was entered into NamUs as UP15033. With few leads to go on, the case eventually went cold.
Four decades later, in August 2020, Dr. Jennifer Bengtson and her Anthropology students at Southeast Missouri State University started working with the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff’s Office to revisit the case. Under Dr. Bengtson’s supervision, students completed a full inventory and re-analysis of the remains. They also submitted bone and tooth samples for isotopic study; these results provided some geographic clues, helped to narrow down a likely year of birth, and helped to refine the age-at-death estimate. Given their previous success working with Othram to obtain usable DNA from difficult samples, Dr. Bengtson and her students used non-destructive analyses and published literature to select new bone samples for another attempt at DNA extraction. Othram scientists were able to successfully extract DNA and develop a SNP profile suitable for genealogical research. Remarkably, a sibling level match was identified immediately upon upload to genealogical databases, and leads returned to the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Office allowed their investigators to quickly deduce that the remains likely belonged to Everette Guy Travis of Blytheville, Arkansas. Othram KinSNP® rapid familial testing further confirmed this identity by matching the profile generated from the remains to one developed from a buccal swab from the decedent’s brother.
Investigators from the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff’s Office learned that Mr. Travis was a 26-year-old Air Force veteran from Texas who had relocated to Arkansas. Known to be a good Samaritan, Mr. Travis picked up a hitchhiker named Kenneth Derring in Blytheville in June of 1977. Witnesses stated that they saw Derring speaking to Mr. Travis and getting into his vehicle. Mr. Travis was not seen or heard from again. Derring later tried to sell Mr. Travis’ vehicle in Sikeston, Missouri. The person to whom he tried to sell the vehicle noted Derring’s suspicious behavior and alerted authorities. Investigators found that Derring was also in possession of some of Mr. Travis’ personal effects and was armed with a .32 caliber firearm. Various witnesses stated that Derring confessed to them that he shot and killed Mr. Travis, but he gave differing accounts as to what he did with the remains. He was convicted of murdering Mr. Travis despite the fact that his remains were not recovered at the time of the trial and were not identified until now. Derring died in prison in 2012.
Funding for this case was provided by donors to the Southeast Missouri State University Foundation in support of experiential learning for Forensic Anthropology students.