1991 Cold Case Reopened


April 2nd, 2018

Unidentified remains in Columbia County may be identified soon, and all I had to do was ask a few questions!

This is an update to Unidentified Remains in Columbia County.

After my initial article on March 25th, 2018, I decided to take action. I couldn’t get this skull off my mind. There were just too many unanswered questions regarding this old, unsolved case for me to let it go. There are potential leads to follow here. First, I started by checking all the local newspapers. I went to the local library, found microfiche for the Columbia County News – Times for 1991. Then, I spent half an hour updating and fixing the microfiche computer for the librarians, who had no idea how to use the computer attached to the microfiche reader. Not that I knew what I was doing either, but I managed to get it up and running. It only took a few tries with the machine to figure out what I was doing once the computer was working. I read through the newspapers they had available for the week after the skull was found and could not find a mention of this gruesome discovery at all. I decided to give the Augusta Chronicle a try too, since it is the biggest newspaper in the area, yet nothing was published there either. Did the news not think that people would be interested in a skull found in the woods? Or did they not know about it?

So, the next day on my lunch break (from my non-sleuthing day job), I picked up the phone. I called the NamUs Regional Administrator, Carrie Sutherland, and left her a message explaining that I have a few questions about NamUs UP # 2060 and that I would like to speak with her about the case. I called the Case Manager, Ashley Garrish, and left her a message as well. It seemed the timing was inopportune, for it appeared everyone else was also at lunch or perhaps screening their calls and I didn’t make the cut.

Then I called the number listed in NamUs for the local coroner’s office. It turned out to be a fax machine. How disappointing! Did some sleuthing on the internet and located a website for the Columbia County, Georgia coroner, http://www.columbiacountyga.gov/government/departments-a-c/columbia-county-coroner-s-office. It was a nice site, listing Vernon’s bio and accomplishments. There was a picture of the local coroner, Vernon Collins, at the top of the page and luckily for me, the coroner’s email address and a more accurate phone number, or so I hoped. I gave the new number a call and could not get through, tried a couple times and it was always busy. Running out of time, I had to get back to my office. Still, the case was on my mind.

Later that night, I wrote an email to the coroner. I explained who I was, let him know I am writing about this case in the hopes that modern technology coupled with an internet presence will provide some answers and help a grieving family somewhere. I asked to speak with him to discuss the deceased and go over a few of my questions. Full of hope, I pressed send on the email.

The next day, I kept checking my email and my phone – silence. I decided to give everyone another day to respond to me, knowing how busy they are and how many cases they must be actively focused on now, I waited. Then on March 29th, I called the case manager again on my lunch, left a message. I called the Regional Administrator, left a message. I tried both the bad number and the possible good number for the local coroner again. Bad number still went to a fax, the other number still perpetually busy. I decided to check the website to see if perhaps I didn’t copy and paste the coroner’s email address correctly. It was gone! The Coroner’s website was completely taken down. It is still down at the time of this writing, April 2nd, 2018. Fortunately, I am keeping good records and documenting everything, so I am fairly confident that I do have the correct email address.

I had to place my phone on silent to take a conference call. After the call, I noticed I had missed a call from the Regional Administrator. I gave her a call back but it was too late, she did not answer. Dejected, I began to contemplate locating the coroner’s office and making a visit on a lunch break. It’s a lot harder to ignore someone standing in your lobby.

On March 30th, Friday morning, the phone rang. It was the NamUs Case manager, Ashely Garrish! My week of contact attempts was paying off. Ashley was very polite and helpful, and she was willing to answer any of my questions that she could. First, I learned that Ashley Garrish’s role isn’t just a NamUs case manager. She is the Assistant Deputy Director of the GBI Medical Examiner’s Office. The GBI is like the Georgia state-run version of the FBI. Ashley explained to me that her office is in charge of autopsies, and that the local coroner’s office was in charge of the onsite research in this case. Anything not in NamUs will be up to the local coroner to release since they are scene investigation.

However, in this day and age, I am entirely correct that better technology is available to help pinpoint how old the remains are and also a more accurate time of death, and the Assistant Deputy Director agrees. In fact, Ashley stated that she would be talking to an anthropologist that very day to revisit this skull and do another analysis. Not only will we have a better idea of the age of the deceased and a better time of death, but there will be more information in this new report regarding the potentially identifying surgery that was noted in NamUs.

Most importantly, the Assistant Deputy Director says she has dental information available and she would be adding it to NamUs that very day, and possibly a dental X-ray too. This could be a potential match for someone missing, who has been missing since 1991. I asked if the GBI would be willing to do Carbon-14 testing on the teeth, since I feel that could really assist with the identification of this person but apparently Carbon-14 testing is not something that the GBI does. Ashley did volunteer that they have the skull still at the GBI and if the local investigating agency wants to coordinate Carbon-14 testing then the GBI will provide whatever samples are needed.

Now all that remains for me to do is to get the local investigating agency re-engaged with this case, and to get this case into the local media once there is better information on the deceased. Getting dental information into NamUs is a big break in this case. And better yet, having an anthropologist revisit the remains to provide more accurate information is another great break. The family of this deceased man may very well be found this year and closure can begin.

Read the NamUs report here: UP #2060

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