Spring Grove PD and Othram Partner to Identify Skull Found in a Residential Basement

Investigators believe a skull found in a Spring Grove basement could date back to the early 1900's
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Published September 02 by Michael Vogen


Investigators are turning to advanced DNA testing in the hopes of uncovering the mystery behind a skull found in the basement of a Spring Grove, Minnesota home. On December 16, 2005, masonry workers were in a residence basement cleaning the ash collection pit from an upstairs fireplace. A worker pulled out a large chunk of debris and immediately recognized it as a human skull. It was missing the top of the forehead and some sections in the back and right temple. The Spring Grove Police Department responded to the scene and transported the skull to the Medical Examiner’s office, where it was confirmed that the skull was that of a Caucasian male at least 30 years of age. Fireplace ash where the skull was found was analyzed, but no other bone fragments were found.

The property owners cooperated with the authorities but had little information that would aid the investigation. When the couple purchased the home in 1967, they were unaware of a fireplace. It wasn’t until they moved in and inspected the house more closely that they noticed a Styrofoam wall in the back of a closet. Upon removing the Styrofoam, they found that the closet was concealing a fireplace. Ten years later, they decided to open the fireplace up to use as a supplemental heat source. It was in use from 1977 to 1986 and had sat dormant until 2005 when they hired masonry workers to do a repair.

Investigators looked into the history of the home and found that it was built in the early 1900’s. The second floor of the home had been used as a rental property for over 60 years. It had many owners throughout the century, most notably a doctor by the name of Melvin Sylvester Nelson. Investigators spoke with previous homeowners and contacted hospitals in Spring Grove and neighboring Granite Falls to learn more information about the doctor. Nurses described him as having a "gruff" personality. Dr. Melvin S. Nelson purchased the home in 1915 and lived there with his wife and two children until 1931. His office was at another location in town, but he also was known to see patients in his home.

The skull has not been linked to any cold cases or missing persons reports in the area. Police believe that the skull has been at the site since before 1967. Various interviews with previous owners of the home and nurses that worked with Dr. Nelson provided little to help the investigation. A DNA sample was extracted from the skull in 2006 but was inconclusive. Anyone with information is asked to call the Spring Grove Police Department at 507-498-2677. A fund has been established to cover the costs of testing for this case. This is case is logged in NamUs as UP8772.

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Michael Vogen

Michael Vogen

Director of Case Management

2829 Technology Forest Blvd Suite 100, The Woodlands, Texas 77381

Michael works with law enforcement agencies throughout the United States and Canada on “unsolvable“ cases that can benefit from advanced DNA testing methods. He helps these agencies use cutting edge DNA sequencing and new forensic techniques to develop investigative leads for their cases.

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Othram is the world’s first private DNA laboratory built specifically to apply the power of modern parallel sequencing to forensic evidence. Othram’s scientists are experts at ... Read morerecovery, enrichment, and analysis of human DNA from trace quantities of degraded or contaminated materials. Founded in 2018, and located in The Woodlands, Texas, our team works with academic researchers, forensic scientists, medical examiners, and law enforcement agencies to achieve results when other approaches have failed. Follow Othram on Twitter @OthramTech or visit Othram.com to learn how we can help you with your case. With dnasolves.com anyone can make a difference and help solve the next cold case.