Volusia County, Florida — A Volusia County cold case homicide has remained stubbornly unsolved for four decades. Few, if any, useful clues have survived the passing years. Today’s investigators don’t even have a name to label the thin case folders. John Doe, 1972, has to suffice. All the evidence that could possibly move the case a step forward has been buried with the victim in a plot on the far edge of a Daytona Beach cemetery. But on a cold and blustery November day the search for John Doe’s real name and the hunt for his killer got a fresh start. The first exhumation order requested by the Sheriff’s Office in about 15 years allowed determined investigators to open the victim’s grave in search of locked away secrets. It was time to meet John Doe.
In early 1972, President Richard Nixon visited China, a gallon of gas cost about 30 cents, and the sitcom All in the Family was one of the most popular shows on television. But for one young man, 1972 was the year his short life ended. His body was found May 3 in a pond near Indian Lake Road, Daytona Beach. The victim had been stabbed several times. Investigators did what they could to learn the victim’s identity, including removing his fingers and shipping the preserved digits to an FBI lab for fingerprint analysis, which was standard practice in such cases at the time.
Today there are no surviving documents related to the fingerprints or any other identification attempts. With little to work with, Cold Case Unit investigators took the rare step of requesting that a judge approve an order to exhume the victim’s remains from his grave at Cedar Hill Cemetery. Investigators were assisted by Victor Lohman and Scott Seegert from Lohman Funeral Homes who located the burial records and then participated in the exhumation. Investigators also asked for help from the C.A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory at the University of Florida. Director Dr. Michael Warren agreed to work with the Volusia County Medical Examiner’s Office in the exhumation and subsequent analysis of the remains. With all the pieces of the new investigation coming together, the date of November 13, 2013 was set for the exhumation.
Dr. Warren and a few of his eager graduate students got started early Wednesday morning and spent several hours digging into the sandy Florida soil. Crime scene investigators from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, Volusia County Medical Examiner’s Office and other local agencies were on hand to assist and learn. Dr. Rick Snow, who came from Atlanta as a representative of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, also was on hand to help. The first objects encountered a few feet down were several small jars. Many were broken, but at least one still contained a preserved severed finger that had been returned by the FBI and buried in the grave. Dr. Warren and his students did most of the excavation work, especially when the collapsed burial container was uncovered. It took a lot of careful chipping away at the rusted metal to finally reveal the victim, still enveloped in a rubber body bag. Once the bag was finally pried free of its surroundings, the graduate students lifted it out to the surface.
The bag was opened and the forensic anthropologists and Cold Case investigators got their first look at the victim. Evidence of his wounds was still apparent to the trained eye. Dr. Warren also made the first new discovery: the victim may have been younger than originally thought. It was believed that the victim was in his late teens or early twenties. However, Dr. Warren saw evidence that the victim may have actually been in his early teens, but his observations will be verified during a more thorough examination at a later date.
The remains were then sealed in a new body bag and transported to the C.A. Pound Laboratory to be stored. It’s hoped that DNA that will be extracted from the remains can shed some light on this old case. The DNA work will be done by the University of North Texas, which participates in the President’s DNA Initiative. Also, the C.A. Pound Laboratory will do a CT scan of the victim’s skull. That scan will then be given to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s Forensic Imaging Unit where a facial reconstruction will be done. It will likely take a few months to complete all of this work. Nonetheless, John Doe’s decades-old secrets are finally on their way to being revealed.