An artist’s rendering of a person killed a decade ago shows a white man with a cleft chin and long hair. But that’s just a guess.
Only the man’s skull and skeletal remains were found in what was then wooded land, now the north end of the Town Center development.
Using technology, artists have estimated what the unidentified person might have looked like, a process that is not as unusual as it might seem.
This case is one of 31 unsolved Jacksonville murders in 2013, as listed on the Project: Cold Case database. Jacksonville has about 20 similar cases, with only an estimation of the person’s appearance, said Project: Cold Case founder Ryan Backmann. Some were homicides and others natural causes or suicides.
“There’s a big push for this kind of case nationally because we have a lot of unidentified remains, and we can’t move forward with investigations because we don’t even know who this person is,” Backmann said. “The goal would be to identify this individual, then figure out who he was interacting with at some point around when he died or was killed.”
Founded in 2015, the nonprofit based in Jacksonville publicizes unsolved homicides and provides support to families of the victims. It now lists thousands of cold cases from 50 Florida counties, 46 states and three countries.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office also launched a “Cold Case Spotlight” in March on its website and social media channels, focusing on murders that detectives have classified as unsolved for a long period of time. Six cold cases are listed there, one dating to 2000. Investigators hope that reviving information on each will lead to identifying suspects and bringing closure for survivors.
In the Southside case, one part of the man’s remains were found March 8, 2013, off Brightman Boulevard, near what is now Topgolf. Workers clearing land found a skull in what had been a wooded site. Homicide detectives found more skeletal remains nearby when searching the next day, all looking like they had been in the woods for a long time, police said.
Police say the remains were those of a man who had been wearing a black Nike hat, T-shirt and sweatpants, plus white and black Nike shoes at the time of his death. An autopsy determined that he had been hit in the head.
“The victim’s identity, race and age have yet to be determined,” the cold case alert said. “However, the medical examiner was able to provide sketches of what the victim potentially looked like at the time of his death.
Another way for the Sheriff’s Office to track down an unidentified victim is a national centralized repository to match unidentified remains with missing persons, Backmann said. The U.S. government site is called NaMus, for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. More than 11,000 sets of undentified remains are held in medical examiner and coroner offices throughout the U.S., according to the 2018 Census of Medical Examiners and Coroners.
Genetic genealogy is another tool that can trace the dead man’s family members through DNA analysis. It could be an avenue to get more information on this case, Backmann said.
“I am not sure if JSO has gone down that avenue with this particular victim,” he said. “But the idea would be to use their DNA through a genealogy company to identify who they are. Obviously there is a family out there somewhere that may not know that their loved one is missing and been murdered.”
Backmann said he is glad the Sheriff’s Office’ is spotlighting an identified victim in its latest cold case. Someone may remember the face from the medical examiner’s office’s reconstruction and kick off a new investigation.
Anyone with information related to any case on the Project: Cold Case cards is asked to contact the Sheriff’s Office at (904) 630-0500 or by email at JSOCrimeTips@jaxsheriff.org. To remain anonymous and be eligible for a possible reward, call First Coast Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-8477 (TIPS).