Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

A more than three-year-old mystery continues in Saginaw County where human bones found in a wooded area have yet to be identified.

New DNA testing indicates investigators may have to take a new direction on trying to determine the identity of the remains.

The Saginaw County Sheriff’s Department is now working with a private company on trying to crack the case.

The investigation has been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic. And now, new DNA testing indicates investigators may have to look for a missing person with an ethnic background that is different from the one they have been researching for a couple of years.

The mystery unfolded in wooded area in Chapin Township in southwest Saginaw County in September of 2018. A human skeleton was found, there was clothing too and about a year later, MSU Anthropologist Joe Hefner determined the 25-55 year old man most likely died from blunt force trauma.

“The Michigan State finding told us it was most likely a Caucasian or Hispanic male,” says Saginaw County Sheriff’s Department Detective Sergeant Aaron Simon.

Researching the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, investigators have not been able to pinpoint whose remains were found in the woods.

Several months ago, the sheriff’s department sent the bones to a private company called Othram, which works with law enforcement agencies on missing persons and criminal cases.

“We are able to derive a lot of human DNA components out of that evidence to building human profiles that can then be used for forensic genetic genealogy,” says Michael Vogen of Othram.

Othram’s finding differed on the ethnicity of the person they were looking for.

“Possibly an Eastern Asian or Alaskan Eskimo native,” says Simons.

“You can always find strange turns as far as ethnicity goes,” says Vogen.

He says its not rare that DNA testing can shed new light on missing person cases.

“As you can imagine that can change the approach of investigators to determine who the missing person might be,” says Vogen.

Which Simons is doing.

“We started searching missing persons mentioning that criteria and in the beginning stages we just tried Michigan, we will start there and expand,” says Simons.

MSU Anthropologist Joe Hefner conducted the first examination of the bones. He says the results that Othram got are interesting and he hopes it leads to a quick resolution.

He also added, “forensic anthropologists routinely estimate population affinity (ancestry) using the shape and size of the bones. For example, there is a relationship between where someone is from and how their skull is shaped. However, like any science, the methods we use will be wrong occasionally (we call this the error rate of the method). For the methods we use to estimate population affinity, we expect an error rate around 10-15%. This doesn’t mean we will absolutely be wrong 10 to 15 percent of the time, but it does mean we will occasionally be wrong. The work companies like Othram do is one of great things about the recent advances in forensic sciences: we continue to refine our toolkits and develop better methods to identify the dead.”

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