45 years later, a new attempt will be made to solve a nagging mystery: Who was the little boy discovered dead in Keene Creek Reservoir?
August 03, 2008
By Anita Burke
Investigators and funeral directors gather on the lush green lawn of Hillcrest Memorial Park as a workman's shovel cuts through the turf.
In a row of children's graves marked by bronze and concrete plaques from the mid-1960s, this patch of grass bears no memorial.
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Anyone who knows
anything about this case is asked to call the
tip line at 774-8333.
Tips can be anonymous.
On July 23, 1963, the body of a toddler pulled from Keene Creek Reservoir earlier that month by a fisherman but never identified was put to rest there in a plastic casket, at a cost of $144 to Jackson County.
Jackson County Sheriff's Department investigators hope that now, 45 years after the unidentified toddler was buried at the cemetery on Medford's eastern edge, they can determine who this little boy was, and maybe even what happened to him.
They've read old reports and tracked down colleagues who worked in the Rogue Valley decades ago to see what they could remember about the case, but have come up with nothing. On Friday, they exhumed the tiny body to tap the latest technology — DNA testing and facial reconstruction from the skull.
They are sharing the story with the public in hopes of sparking memories that might still hold a vital clue.
"We owe it to this little boy to get him identified and to connect him to his family," said Jackson County Sheriff Detective Sgt. Colin Fagan, one of a team of investigators that has rejuvenated the case, which had languished in the county archives.
Eleven paper boxes marked "old sheriff cases" were uncovered in the archives last year and Fagan asked special investigator Jim Tattersall to sort through them to see whether there were any that needed to be followed up or entered into computer databases.
Tattersall retired from a career in law enforcement and private security and has helped investigators at the sheriff's department a few days a week since 2004. He pitches in on tasks, like this one, that the busy detectives just can't get to.
He paged through reams of case reports — burglaries, stolen cars, "a lot of suicides, a few homicides," a whole variety of felonies. And one about a little boy with no name.
"All of them had a conclusion," he said. "But this one just stopped."
It started July 11, 1963.
Roy Roberts, a Rogue River man who worked at the Green Springs Lumber Co., was fishing in Keene Creek Reservoir along Highway 66 in the mountains east of Ashland with his wife and two co-workers on a Thursday evening when he hooked what he thought was a blanket roll.
But the bundle, a blanket and quilt wrapped with wire, contained a boy's body.
Roberts reported his shocking discovery to a fire warden at Lincoln, who relayed the report to Oregon State Police. The Jackson County Sheriff's Department ultimately took the case, but OSP and the FBI assisted.
"They used the best technology of the day," Fagan said.
An autopsy performed the day after the body was found estimated the boy was 22 to 26 months old when he died. His death likely happened after October 1962, a sheriff's report said. Winter's freezing temperatures could have helped preserve the body, but the medical examiner couldn't be sure. The condition of the body prevented him from determining a cause of death.
Looking back, Fagan said the death could have been accidental, but someone feared facing repercussions. It could have naturally occurred in a family that didn't have the means for a conventional burial. It could have been a homicide someone hoped to hide.
The report listed the lad as 321/2; inches tall, weighing between 19 and 30 pounds, with longish, light-brown hair and eight upper and eight lower teeth. He wore a red, long-sleeved pullover shirt with thin white stripes, gray corduroy trousers with an elastic waist and a buckle for size adjustments, and a cloth diaper fastened with blue diaper pins and covered with plastic pants. The clothing likely was from J.C. Penney, police reports said. He also wore anklet socks and white walker or learner shoes known as "Jumping Jacks" that possibly had been bought at Noble's Shoes in downtown Medford.
The child's footprints were taken with the help of the FBI, and deputies spent days with magnifying glasses comparing them with imprints taken of newborns at local hospitals around the time they estimated he had been born.
The body was wrapped in an aqua blanket and a handmade patchwork quilt that included lots of red, including red gingham squares. Two iron assayer's molds were wrapped in the quilt, apparently to weigh the body down. Thin brass wire and several loops of copper wire with a lead sheath and rubber insulation secured the bundle.
"This was as though someone was saying goodbye," Fagan said.
Reports indicated that both the molds, designed for refining and casting metal, and the telephone wire were once common, but already old and seldom used by the time the boy was found.
"Maybe someone had found them lying around in an old barn or cabin," speculated Jackson County Deputy Medical Examiner Tim Pike, who also is part of the team that has taken up the old case.
Photographs of the molds were featured in the Medford Mail Tribune and the Ashland Daily Tidings, which both carried the story with regular updates through July and August 1963.
Tips came in and deputies recorded them in a special log book dedicated to what they called a homicide case involving the found child. Pages and pages of reports, letters and telegrams to neighboring jurisdictions and photographs stacked up, but no answers emerged.
In the days after the child was buried, a bouquet of sweet peas appeared on the grave, which was marked with a flat metal marker that one police report said read, "John Doe, name known only to God."
Detectives queried cemetery sextons and florists to determine where the blooms had come from, hoping that a bereaved family member might have surfaced. They concluded that the flowers were likely meant for another new grave, a Central Point baby buried nearby at about the same time, but the giver hadn't paused to decipher the hard-to-read temporary markers.
Some leads were listed as unfounded, but no details were provided on why they hadn't panned out, Fagan said.
He noted that the investigators of the day clearly worked hard on the case and did all they could. However, differences in processes — such as referring to people by title, first initial and last name instead of full name and identifying women by their husband's names — have frustrated current investigators.
In one tantalizing example, a deputy wrote that Mrs. Cecil Johnson, on Route 1 in Central Point, reported that the child's description matched that of a "welfare baby" she had taken care of for more than two years. The report said the child had been born "at Fairview Home to a 14-year-old mentally retarded girl" and brought to the Johnsons when he was 10 days old. On Jan. 31, 1963, "Mrs. Uridel, of the welfare," had come to collect the baby because she heard the Johnsons were having money problems, the report said. When picked up, the child was wearing a red-and-white striped T-shirt, corduroy pants and white shoes, Mrs. Johnson told the deputy. She was also suspicious because no one had come to collect the child's clothes and medical records from her.
The file contained no other information about this report.
"We'd sure like to know who Mrs. Cecil Johnson of Route 1 was," Pike said.
With no likely leads left in the old file, the team turned to technology that the original investigators — for whom notes show a long-distance phone call was an extraordinary event to be scheduled — couldn't have imagined.
The University of North Texas operates the Center for Human Identification, funded in part by the National Institute of Justice, to help law enforcement agencies nationwide utilize DNA evidence. For missing-person cases, it collects DNA from relatives of the missing and from unidentified remains, then works to match them.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children offers investigators resources for creating three-dimensional models of facial features from old remains.
Pike obtained a permit from the Oregon Department of Human Services Center for Health Statistics to exhume, transport and reinter the boy.
"What we want is a proper burial with a proper casket, ideally with his name on the headstone," Fagan said.
Officials at Hillcrest waived all fees for Friday's exhumation and have promised to provide a new marker at cost.
Crews dug through heavy clay soil studded with rocks, unearthing a metal marker for the unknown baby and a rusted flower receptacle before their shovels thumped against a white plastic vault protecting the tiny casket.
"Everything will be very well intact," predicted funeral director Jed Ramey, standing by to oversee the project.
Cemetery worker Robert Johnson hoisted out the mud-stained casket, an elegant box just 27 inches long, 12 inches wide and 9 inches deep.
Investigators and funeral directors carried it to a work area at the cemetery for an initial examination.
"This is amazing," Pike said after his first look.
He said the remains were in far better condition than investigators had hoped for and should yield "great" forensic evidence.
The casket and remains were taken to the deputy state medical examiner's laboratory for a more thorough examination. A state anthropologist will assist in the evaluation so the best DNA samples can be collected and a reconstruction can be done. Those results won't be available for months.
Despite the potential for quality forensic work, Pike still hopes for help from the public.
"I think if we have any chance of solving this case it will be through the public's help," he said. "Someone may remember this child, this case."
Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org://www.mailtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/a.../NEWS/808030322