Author Topic: LEWISTON JOHN DOE (1989): WM, 24-26, found in a cemetery - 22 September 1989  (Read 198 times)


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Remains with no names

Two dead bodies were found in Lewiston, in 1982 and 1989, but putting names to either one of them has proven elusive

By RALPH BARTHOLDT of the Tribune May 19, 2014

The bones have recently been returned.

This in itself is not noteworthy except it serves to close a chapter of a saga that has been ongoing for 25 years.

The bones belong to "Mr. Bonesey," as Lewiston Police Detective Budd Hurd has come to call the physical remains of the 24- to 26-year-old white male found buried in an unmarked, shallow grave in Normal Hill Cemetery on Sept. 21, 1989. Police have been trying since then to connect the remains with an identity, but have fallen short.

The bones filled an unmarked sack in the Lewiston Police Department evidence room and were all but forgotten until a few years ago when Hurd, the department's evidence detective, reacquainted himself with the 33 pieces.

"I found them in evidence, and that's what started this again," Hurd said.

By "this," he means police department efforts to rejoin the hunt to identify the pieces that were found more than two decades ago by a grave digger preparing another plot for burial. Instead of being laid in an east to west direction under several feet of fill, according to cemetery protocol, the remains he found were laid north to south without a casket under about 2 feet of soil. There was no record of the burial.

Using dental records and descriptions, police tried to match them with a number of missing persons, but nothing fit.

Anthropologist Donald Tyler, chairman of the sociology, anthropology and justice studies program at the University of Idaho, was tapped to examine the bones. Tyler concluded they were from a male, approximately 5 feet 8 inches tall and 24 to 26 years of age. The bones indicated the person had performed heavy lifting during his lifetime.

Based upon the decomposition of the body and the relative freshness of the bones, Tyler found they had been buried for less than 10 years.

"His skull was wiped off, but I could see that it was recently decomposed," Tyler said. "The skull, through the mineral water, will change color to what minerals are around it, and this had just started the process."

The cause of death could not be determined, he said. Unless a body was inflicted with multiple stab wounds, or shot through the skull with a firearm, evidence becomes sketchy once a person's remains have been degraded to bone, he said.

Dental records of Steven Pearsall, who was reported missing from the Lewiston Civic Theatre in September 1982 and would have fit a time line of the remains, failed to provide a match.

A number of other missing persons of the era were also closely checked to determine if their records could provide a match for the man, said former Lewiston Police Detective Alan Johnson. None were found.

Police publicized the man's bones in 1990 when an employee at the North Idaho Laboratory, then located at North Idaho College in Coeur d'Alene, was able to reconstruct the man's skull by adding clay features that would simulate what he may have looked like.

Identifications on the face and other age-identifying marks could not be determined, but the man's skull gives police a small picture into his appearance. No one can be sure, however, if the resemblance is accurate. Such resemblances sometimes provide the person's face in exact detail, Tyler said. Others may not resemble the living person.

Lewiston police entered X-rays of the man's jaw, which included his dental makeup, into a Northwest DNA database, and it was crosschecked with other cases of the time. Again, no hits.

When Hurd found the bones and lugged them out of evidence it had been a decade or more since they were stored away. Advances in DNA research had blossomed during that time and the department opted to employ the latest technology as yet another step to uncovering the man's identity. The bones were sent to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification where Mr. Bonesey's DNA was logged into a national registry for posterity.

"We used to need 100 DNA markers to make a positive identity," Hurd said. "Now, it's down to five."

Lt. Mike Pedersen, who was a patrol officer in 1989 when he responded to the cemetery where the bones were first uncovered, has watched the investigative process over the years. After many dead ends, he is skeptical that new technology will help close the case.

"I would be extremely surprised if we find him," Pedersen said.

Since their return from the Texas laboratory, Lewiston police have made plans to cremate the skeletal remains, closing another small chapter in this cold case.

The case of 'John Doe'

The dead man whose body was found bullet-riddled in the Snake River south of Lewiston more than 30 years ago could have come from three drainages.

He was discovered on a Saturday night, June 26, 1982, by a Lewiston fisherman on the Idaho side of the river, near an eddy just across from the mouth of the Grande Ronde River.

Detectives estimated the man had been in the water for two or three weeks. Because river levels were high during the spring runoff, the body could have floated in from the Salmon River, or the Grande Ronde, detectives speculated. It could have been dumped into the Snake upstream.

He was removed from the water at Heller Bar by Asotin County deputies and later buried in Normal Hill Cemetery as "John Doe."

After more than 30 years, Nez Perce County Sheriff's Office detectives are still trying to identify the 18- to 20-year-old man who suffered gunshot wounds to the left shoulder and neck.

Sheriff Joe Rodriguez was an investigator when the sheriff's office received a tip that detectives felt could rekindle the cold case. John Doe was exhumed to collect a DNA sample, which was sent to the University of Northern Texas Center for Human Identification.

"It was not a match," Rodriguez said.

Since taking the helm of county law enforcement, Rodriguez has been collecting leads and following up with people who may shed new light on the old case.

"I just started making phone calls and setting up meetings with people," he said. "It takes basically somebody to remember something that could be part of this."

No other law enforcement agencies along the Snake and Salmon river systems ever identified the man as a missing person of their own, according to newspaper reports.

Doe was of medium build, weighing 150 pounds and standing 5 feet 11 inches, according to authorities. He had straight brown or black hair, and a 2-inch scar on his right ankle, but no tattoos or other distinguishing marks. The color of his eyes could not be determined. When he was found, Doe wore designer jeans over blue swimming trunks with red and white stripes. Dental records didn't produce a match.

Authorities said he was shot with a Smith & Wesson .38 caliber 36 Centennial Model, a rare firearm, which had not been manufactured since 1967.

"There was only 100 of them made," Rodriguez said.

Detectives believed the man was dead when he entered the river, although an autopsy report was inconclusive on whether he drowned or died from the gunshots.

Investigations in the years after Doe was buried prompted ballistic checks of a few handguns, but investigations fizzled.

Cold cases such as John Doe's don't go away, Rodriguez said. They sit idly sometimes, but new information and new technology such as recent advances in DNA research can prompt renewed interest.

"If something piques our interest, we look at it again," Rodriguez said. "If you look at technology, we've advanced."

Bartholdt can be contacted at or (208) 848-2275.