In January 2000, hunters came across the skeletonized remains of Vernon County John Doe near the town of Nevada, MO. Preliminary analyses provided some important clues that investigators hoped would lead to an identification: he was a biological male, likely of European ancestry, and was 26-36 years old at the time of his death. His death was determined to be a homicide although the post-mortem interval (PMI) is unclear. Louisiana State University’s FACES Lab produced a forensic approximation of what Vernon County John Doe may have looked like and a DNA profile was developed and uploaded to CODIS. Despite these efforts, his identity remains a mystery over 20 years later.
In December of 2020, Dr. Jennifer Bengtson and her anthropology students at Southeast Missouri State University reached out to the Missouri State Highway Patrol to offer their assistance with this case. Dr. Bengtson and her team will inventory the remains and create new reports on age-at-death, biological sex, and ancestry estimates, applying more recently developed forensic anthropological techniques in their reassessment. Students will examine weathering patterns on the remains in an attempt to refine the PMI and prepare material for specialized microscopic and isotope analysis to augment the age at death estimate and uncover chemical clues about where Vernon County John Doe may have lived as a child.
The Southeast Missouri State University Anthropology team has partnered with Othram to use advanced DNA testing and forensic genealogy to establish an identification of, or to find the closest living relatives to, the decedent. Thanks to a faculty research grant from the University, $3000 has already been contributed toward funding the identification of Vernon County John Doe. Anyone with information that could aid the investigation is encouraged to contact Sergeant Travis Hitchcock of the Missouri State Highway Patrol at (417) 359-1500. A fund has been established to cover the remaining costs of testing for this case. This case is logged in NamUs as UP8023.