- Associated Press - Monday, June 2, 2014

BELOIT, Wis. (AP) - You can tell a lot from a person’s bones.

The Rock County Coroner’s Office is hoping a piece of a bone will reveal where an unidentified young man was from, which might lead to finding his identity.

The bones of John “Clinton” Doe were found in 1995 near Turtle Creek in a wooded area in Bradford Township. It was determined that he was between the ages of 17 and 20, but who he was remains a mystery.

Now a small piece of a leg bone is at the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute in Washington, D.C. Extensive research is being conducted on the bone that hopefully will lead to identifying where Doe spent most of this life, said Acting Rock County Coroner Lou Smit.

“What we eat and drink, particularly when growing up, weighs into our bones,” he told the Beloit Daily News. “This process (by the Smithsonian) is able to evaluate what’s in your bones and gives us a picture and should be able to tell us where he was from.”

The test is expensive - close to $1 million -but the museum is doing it for free, Smit said. It was actually a “cold call” to the museum by Rock County Deputy Coroner Jack Friess that opened up the opportunity to send the bone to the nation’s capital.

It’s been a long road for John Clinton Doe. His remains have been at the University of Texas for a number of years for DNA testing.

Prior to the bones coming back from Texas, Friess said they asked for another DNA test. This time the test returned better results.

“Originally we had four of the 13 DNA markers,” he said. “The new test resulted in 11. The 11 (markers) made it possible for the DNA profile to be uploaded to the national DNA system. Prior to that it was only listed in the Texas database.”

Last year Friess was hired as a volunteer deputy coroner in order to investigate missing persons cases. Smit said after Friess worked for the coroner’s office for a few weeks he officially deputized him, and allowed him to work on the John Clinton Doe case. He’s logged nearly 1,600 hours analyzing the evidence in the case over the last nine months.

“This case had been sitting around for 19 years and several county board members have asked me about it,” Smit said. “So I thought we’d try to do something outside the box.”

At first Friess was researching missing persons cases and comparing it to evidence at the coroner’s office. While he continued to work on the case he developed contacts through the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) that had worked with a murder case in Knox County, Tennessee.

“I called down to Knox County and talked to a detective and told him we had a tough case up here so they suggested I call (the Smithsonian),” Friess said. “It was a cold call. I asked about the program and how it works. They asked a bunch of questions about the case and at the end of the conversation they said yes.”

The cold call was to Christine France, a physical scientist with the museum. France said in a statement released by the Rock County Coroner’s Office that the test compares ingested water that is in Doe’s bones to drinking water around the world.

“The accuracy will be limited to a general area, such as the (U.S.) Southeast or Canadian Rocky Mountain region,” she said.

While the determined area might be large, anything is better than what they’ve been doing, which is searching the entire country.

“If we can eliminate two-thirds of the United States that would be a smaller haystack to search,” he said, adding they can send another sample if necessary.

There is a chance the bone won’t provide a good sample, but Friess said he is fairly confident that the process will be able to narrow down the search field.

The test has been done for several decades in archaeological and paleontological research, but it’s only been used for forensic investigations for the last 10 to 15 years.

“I have applied this technique to hundreds of specimens with a fairly good success rate,” France said. “Modern humans tend to have a more global diet, which does interfere somewhat with the chemical signatures of a local region. But my research and the work of others suggest the technique is still useful for identifying general areas of origin in people today.”

The amount of time the test will take is still unknown. The bone sample was sent in on April 30, but because the museum is doing the test pro bono it could take a few months.

“We are thinking maybe by the end summer that would be the best bet,” Friess said. “At the latest in the fall.”


Information from: Beloit Daily News, https://www.beloitdailynews.com

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