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Posted: Feb 26 2012, 06:39 AM
Member No.: 1
Joined: 2-January 09
Anonymous: Seven local deaths have remained mysteries
February 25, 2012 8:20 PM
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WENDY VICTORA / Daily News
Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series about the individuals who have died locally but never have been identified.
In his final resting place at Beal Memorial Cemetery, he is known only as “unidentified white male.”
The slight young white man with shoulder-length blond hair was buried June 15, 1973, two weeks after his body was found in a sleeping bag at a rest stop along Interstate 10 in Okaloosa County.
No one knows when or where he was born, who cradled him as an infant, where he went to school.
Nearly 40 years later, his identity remains a mystery. His grave is unmarked.
“Unidentified but not forgotten,” is how such cases are characterized at the District One Medical Examiner’s Office in Pensacola.
The young man found at the rest stop is one of seven still-unidentified deceased persons in Okaloosa, Walton and Santa Rosa counties.
Senior Forensics Investigator Emily Macks says it’s not uncommon for dead people to come in to the ME’s office without an identity. She estimates the office receives 50 such cases each year. Almost all are identified within 12 months.
But a few cases stretch past that first year. Those are almost never solved.
“They become the sad little minority after we’ve done everything we can do,” Macks said. “All efforts have been exhausted.”
The condition of the body when it arrives at the office is a big factor in how likely it is to be identified.
Bodies that are decomposed, found in skeletal condition or have spent even a day or two in water often lose most of their unique, identifying characteristics such as facial features, birthmarks, tattoos and fingerprints.
Other challenging cases involve people who are believed to be in this country illegally or those who have been living a transient lifestyle.
“If identify in itself is an issue during life, then in death it clearly becomes a big issue,” said District One Director Jeff Martin.
Of the seven unsolved local cases, five are men and two are women.
The cases span more than 30 years, with the earliest dating to the 1973 case and the most recent less than five years old.
Every effort is made to solve them. Whatever information exists about each individual is entered into numerous national databases. Since 1994, that information includes the victim’s DNA, which is run regularly for possible matches.
The unsolved cases include the young man at the rest stop, a suspected illegal immigrant killed in a 2007 car crash, a DeFuniak Springs man who hadn’t been seen at his apartment in six months and a man found lying next to I-10 after apparently being hit by a car.
The other three likely are homicide victims, including a woman matching the description given by a well-known serial killer of his sixth victim.
Over the almost four decades since the young man’s body was found at the rest stop, procedures at the ME’s office have changed. Existing records give no indication of what he was wearing or whether any personal possessions were found with him.
In more recent cases, those items are photographed and catalogued.
Photos of the jewelry worn by the suspected victim of the serial killer have been widely distributed in the hope that someone will recognize it and give her a name.
But all that’s known about that first victim is that he was found “sleeping in a sleeping bag,” according to records.
An autopsy is the longest document in a black, three-ring folder documenting his case.
His body tells the story of a young man who lived his life hard. He had numerous contusions, or bruises, and his blood showed evidence of amphetamine use.
Under the cause of death, then-Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Edward Kielman listed acute viral hepatitis, congestive heart failure, a pulmonary hemorrhage, and inflammation of the heart muscle.
His estimated age was 17 to 22, although he could have been younger.
He had two faint tattoos, one on each arm. “AM …” was on the right arm. “T.K.” had been tattooed on the left arm. His right thumb had a five-pointed scar on it. He was a smoker. He had been circumcised.
Those details have become his identity.
The cause of death was organ failure, but the manner of death seems destined to remain a mystery.
Kielman speculated that the young man could have been thrown from a car or motorcycle, although he didn’t have surface abrasions consistent with that kind of incident.
He could have been beaten. He could have been strangled.
“It is difficult to say how this individual died,” Kielman concluded in the autopsy report.
In the young man’s file, there is a letter from an attorney representing the parents of a young California man who went missing about the same time.
That young man’s last correspondence was from Florida, and he told his parents he was heading back to San Diego. He was never heard from again.
But the California man was heavier, taller and had black hair. They were not a match.
If the young man had woken up in his sleeping bag instead of dying there, he might be in his 50s or 60s by now. His parents would be at least in their 70s, if they are still alive.
“As the years go by, the window of getting him identified begins to close,” Martin said. “There’s certain ones that pretty much always stay unidentified.”
Three deaths, no names
In the pre-dawn hours of Aug. 5, 2007, a young, well-dressed Hispanic man walked into the path of a car at the intersection of Manring Drive and Beal Parkway in Fort Walton Beach.
He had been drinking. So had the driver of the car that hit him. The driver was arrested at the scene. The victim was taken to a hospital, where he died.
The Medical Examiner’s Office still has the gold chain, white cap, khaki shorts, polo shirt and white tennis shoes he was wearing when he was hit.
“I don’t think he was homeless,” said Jeff Martin, director of the District One Medical Examiner’s Office in Pensacola. “He had to have been living with someone.”
But no one ever came forward to claim his body. It was buried in an indigent’s grave at Glendale Cemetery in DeFuniak Springs.
Investigators learned that he had been known as Antonio Luis Escobar, but it is unclear if that was his real name. The owner of El Paso restaurant said that the man had just arrived from Miami and had been busing tables at the restaurant for the previous few days. The INS card he used had belonged to an 82-year-old man.
The restaurant’s owner said the man had used his phone a few times and offered it to investigators so they could trace the calls to find family members. One number led them to a “sister” in Miami, who was in a mental institution. She said she knew him, but he was not her brother.
The Medical Examiner’s Office has since received one inquiry about whether the man had a large tattoo on his back. He did not.
Still, the ME’s staff hopes that someone who knew him will come forward — a friend, a family member, someone who can tell the beginning of a story that ended tragically.
“This one is going to be very hard, I think,” Martin said.
l l l
On March 17, 2004, a man walking his property in DeFuniak Springs discovered what appeared to be human skeletal remains scattered near a fence line.
According to the autopsy report, the remains were those of a black or Hispanic man who would have been about 5 feet, 6 inches tall. He could have been “of a robust build” and was estimated to have been between 36 and 45 years old.
The medical examiner noted that the man’s bones showed signs of “severe activity-induced stress” during “his short life.” He had a fractured nose, which would have looked flattened, and healed injuries consistent with someone who might have doing sport boxing or been a power weight lifter.
A key in his pocket led investigators to Oakdale Apartments in DeFuniak Springs, where he had not been seen for six months.
He might have been employed by the COPE Center, but had been reported missing from there six years earlier.
His “believed-to-be” name was Roman Gonzales, but with no known relatives in the United States, all attempts to establish a concrete identity failed.
The remains of the man who might have been Roman Gonzalez are stored in a box at the Medical Examiner’s Office.
l l l
State law prohibits the cremation of unidentified decedents. But the remains of a middle-aged man found dead on the shoulder of Interstate 10 on Nov. 7, 1986, were cremated for unknown reasons.
That means that in the unlikely event that family members are found, forensics investigators will not be able to make a positive identification through DNA.
The man apparently was walking along the south shoulder of I-10 near Mile Marker 55 near Crestview when he was hit by a car and left to die. A service company helping a stranded motorist came across the body days later.
The man, whose race could not be determined because of decomposition, had intensely black hair and was lying on the shoulder of the highway with his arms over his head in what was described as an “I surrender” position.
He died of massive skull fractures, likely suffered when he was hit by a car and flew over its roof. He also had calf injuries, consistent with being struck by the bumper of a moving car.
Only one of his shoes was recovered.
The autopsy revealed that he had had a fractured femur which had healed in an overlapping position, causing that leg to be three inches shorter than the other. He would have walked with a pronounced limp.
More than 25 years after his death, there are no inquiries in his file about possible matches.
Read more: http://www.nwfdailynews.com/articles/local...l#ixzz1nUUKxRFp