In June 2004, a hiker discovered a human skull approximately fifteen miles south of Red Lodge, Montana. Law enforcement responded with search teams and recovered a femur and pelvic bone. Subsequent forensic analysis determined that the bones came from the same individual and indicated that they belonged to a male between the ages of 15 and 32. DNA from the remains were entered in the Missing and Unidentified Remains section of the national Combined DNA Index System, but there was no match with a relative donor. The case was entered into NamUs as UP8932 but there were no matches to known missing persons.
In 2022, with assistance from the US Department of Justice, the FBI, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) and the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case team, Carbon County Sheriff’s Office engaged Othram to initiate a genetic genealogy investigation to develop new leads in the case. The skeletal evidence was sent to Othram’s lab in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram's team developed a DNA extract from the degraded remains and then used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to build a comprehensive DNA profile from the skeletal remains. This DNA profile was returned to the investigators and the investigators used the profile in a genealogical search to identify possible distant genetic relatives. Genetic genealogy research, executed by local law enforcement and the FBI, produced an investigative lead that resulted in the identification of the remains as those of Rogers “Roger” Lee Ellis, who was born in Wisconsin Rapids 1954.
A further investigation revealed that in 1976, Ellis was facing legal issues related to an arrest for marijuana possession. Ellis told his family he didn’t want to go to jail and that he was going to head west. Ellis had no further contact with his family. Investigators believe Ellis was hitchhiking when he left Wisconsin in December 1976. Authorities believe he was killed by the person or persons with whom he was traveling with and they left his body in Montana and continued on their way.
The sheriff’s department in Montana has launched a cold case homicide investigation. This investigation will rely on information from those who knew Ellis in the 1970s. CCSO is working with detectives in Wisconsin and neighboring jurisdictions to try and identify additional information about Ellis and any friends and associates in 1976, as well as identify any other similar cases in the region during that time frame that may help identify those responsible for ending this young man’s life.
The services provided by Othram for this case were funded by the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs). NamUs is a national clearinghouse funded and administered by the National Institute of Justice and managed through a contract with RTI International that assists the criminal justice community with the investigation and resolution of missing, unidentified, and unclaimed persons cases across the United States and its territories. We are grateful to RTI, NamUs, and the NIJ for the support.