CELINA — The human bones found at a site near Grand Lake St. Marys earlier this year were that of a man, Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey said Thursday.
What is unknown is the identity of the man or where he is from. Mercer and surrounding counties have no missing person cases that match the description of the man forensic anthropologist came up with, Grey said.
The sheriff said investigators believed someone killed the man and the case is an open homicide investigation.
“We have definite evidence that leads us to believe this person was the victim of a homicide,” Grey said. “This definitely was not someone who was out there fishing and who walked behind the trees and had a heart attack.”
He would not go into details on that evidence. He explained if they find a potential suspect, they want to see if that person’s story matches evidence of how the person was killed, Grey said.
DNA from a skeletal found Jan. 3 in a state park off U.S. 127 south of Celina were examined by the state crime lab and officials with the University of North Texas.
The DNA has been loaded into two national law enforcement databases and a database for missing people, Grey said.
“At this point, we do not have a match,” Grey said.
The sheriff’s office also is searching for a lab that can examine DNA for race and ancestry. The sheriff’s office contacted Ancestry.com but that group tests DNA by saliva, something Mercer County investigators do not have, Grey said.
“That would help us narrow our search and prevent us from spinning our wheels on stuff we don’t know,” Grey said if race and ancestral background can be established.
Grey said scientists were able to extract nuclear DNA and mitochondrial DNA from the skeletal remains. Nuclear DNA can positively match a person, where mitochondrial DNA can identify family members. Both methods require there to be samples to compare, he said.
The sheriff said there is no match because the victim and his family are not in any database. He encouraged anyone across the country who has a missing family member to submit that family member’s DNA or their own DNA to the database so there is a profile this victim or other missing people can be compared to.
The sheriff’s office also has notified all nearby law enforcement agencies in a 250-mile radius of Mercer County. All agencies along U.S. 127 to Florida were notified, as well, since that is a highway someone could have been driving when he or she chose to stop in Mercer County to dump the body, Grey said.
The area where the body was found is wooded in a state park just off U.S. 127. It’s also a common area fishermen use, Grey said.
The sheriff’s office has received 28 tips on the bones found, and 12 remain under investigation.
Grey said it’s important if anyone across the country knows anything about a missing person who is a man between the ages of 20 to 35 and between the height of 5 foot 7 to 6 foot 1 to let investigators know through the agency website mercercountysheriff.org, by calling the tip line at 567-890-TIPS (8477) or calling a detective a 419-586-1450.
He said it will be very hard to solve the case if they cannot identify the body. Identifying the body will give investigators a starting point, which Grey said gives them a better than 50 percent chance of solving the case.
“It will give us a good place to start an investigation to try to determine how the person ended up here, how he died and possibly who did this,” Grey said.
Grey surmises the person was not killed at the scene and likely dumped there. He also does not believe the person was dumped in Grand Lake and washed ashore into that area.
“I would speculate very solidly that they were probably not killed at that location,” Grey said.
The sheriff said the whole skeleton was not present but would not identify the bones found. He said most of the skeleton was there. He also said it’s possible animals carried off some of the remains. He said it’s likely the body was there for less than three months — which would put that around October 2015 — but it could be up to a year.
Grey said Mercer County is a smaller, safe county and cases such as this are unnerving. He also said he wants to bring justice for the victim and the victim’s family.
“This case is difficult for me because there is a family out there,” he said. “A year and a half ago, a year ago, that was a person walking around on this earth.”
Reach Greg Sowinski at 567-242-0464 or on Twitter @Lima_Sowinski.