A mystery more than three years old continues in Saginaw County, where human bones found in a wooded area have yet to be identified.
New DNA tests indicate that researchers may need to go in a new direction to uncover the identities of the remains.
The Saginaw County Sheriff’s Department is now working with a private company to solve the case.
The investigation has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. And now, new DNA tests indicate that investigators may need to search for a missing person from an ethnic background different from the one they’ve been investigating for a few years.
The mystery unfolded in a wooded area in Chapin Township in southwestern Saginaw County in September 2018. A human skeleton was found, there was also clothing, and about a year later, MSU anthropologist Joe Hefner determined that the 25-55- year-old man most likely died of blunt force trauma.
“The Michigan state finding told us it was most likely a white or Hispanic male,” said Saginaw County Sheriff’s Department Detective Sergeant Aaron Simon.
When investigating the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, researchers were unable to determine whose remains were found in the forest.
Several months ago, the sheriff sent the bones to a private company called Othram, which works with missing persons and criminal law enforcement agencies.
“We are able to derive many human DNA components from that evidence to build human profiles that can then be used for forensic genetic genealogy,” said Othram’s Michael Vogen.
Othram’s finding differed based on the ethnicity of the person they were looking for.
“Maybe a native East Asian or Alaskan Eskimo,” Simons says.
“You can always find strange twists and turns when it comes to ethnicity,” says Vogen.
He says its not rare that DNA testing can shed new light on missing person cases.
“You can imagine that this could change the approach of researchers to determine who the missing person might be,” says Vogen.
What Simons is working on.
“We’ve started looking for missing persons with those criteria and in the early stages we’ve tried Michigan, we’ll start there and expand there,” says Simons.
MSU anthropologist Joe Hefner conducted the initial examination of the bones. He says the results Othram has achieved are interesting and he hopes this will lead to a quick solution.
He also added: “Forensic anthropologists routinely estimate the affinity of the population (origin) using the shape and size of the bones. For example, there is a link between where a person comes from and how their skull is formed. will occasionally be wrong (we call this the method error rate). For the methods we use to estimate population affinity, we expect an error rate of around 10-15%. This does not mean we are absolutely wrong 10 to 15 percent of the time, but it does mean we’re wrong every now and then.The work that companies like Othram do is one of the great things about the recent advances in forensic science: we continue to refine our toolkits and develop better methods to identify the dead.”