Skull Discovered in the Woods – Identified!

This is the continuation of a true story about a man who died almost 30 years ago in Columbia County, Georgia and whose case has been listed on NamUs for 10 years now. I found this case on NamUs about a year ago, and it haunted me. 

A skull, without a mandible, was found by hunters in an undisclosed location on January 27th, 1991. There were so many unanswered questions surrounding this poor soul and it kept me up at night. (see my first article on this for my ponderings) Who was he? Did he have a family? What happened? Where was the rest of him?

I searched throughout the Augusta Chronicle archives, trying to see if there was any additional information. I contacted NamUs several times to ask questions. I reached out to the local coroner. I even spoke with the Assistant Deputy Director of the GBI. The GBI even assured me that they were engaging an anthropologist to revisit older cases and noted that the anthropologist would do an analysis. I was ridiculously excited when Ashley Garrish, Assistant Deputy Director of the GBI informed me of this. I felt that with all the newer technologies available to us today, surely this man would be identified.

Finally, after a few phone tags, the best information came from the local coroner, Vernon Collins, who took time out of his busy day to return my call and dig up some real answers for me, which was much appreciated. Although Vernon was not the coroner at the time, he did have records from the man who was the coroner in 1991, Tommy King. Vernon politely told me that the guy whose skull was found all those years ago in the woods, what was found was only the upper part of the skull, no mandible was found. In my opinion (not the coroner’s), without a mandible, it could make identifying someone by their dental records quite difficult. However, the skull of the man found in the woods had a surgical procedure done. This right here adds a uniqueness to the man that should be easy to identify. After watching a ton of Bones episodes, it seemed to me that a surgical procedure on a skull would be trackable, somewhere, in the healthcare system.

And I was right. This surgical procedure was the key to unlocking the identity of the lonely skull found in the woods. There was a suture on the skull in the upper cheek and maxillary area. Because this person had surgery performed in the past, on his skull, he could indeed be identified. It is my understanding based on what the current coroner could dig up, that back in the 1990s, the family of a missing man, Marian Willie Jackson (goes by Willie only not Marian), came forward to report him missing and mentioned that he had a maxillary repair at the Medical College of Georgia, which is not far from Columbia County at all. In fact, I have had work done there myself. It is in Augusta, many people from Columbia County go to the Medical College of Georgia. Tommy King, having learned of this information, subpoenaed the Medical College to get the x-ray information for Willie. Once he received that information, he was able to confirm that it was a match.

If it weren’t for this surgery, his family would still be seeking closure today, wondering where Willie is. However, I do not believe that they have all the closure they need, because many questions are still unanswered, and I will circle back to this in just a minute, but first – why is NamUs Case #2060 even still in NamUs today if we know this is Willie? Why did the GBI inform me that they would reopen the case? During my call with the local coroner, when I explained why I wanted this information, because I was researching this open NamUs case, he was quite surprised that this old case had even made it into NamUs as an unidentified person at all. He didn’t understand why it was there now either. I’ve made a few calls and sent several emails now trying to find out what is going on and get the NamUs unidentified person case closed out if indeed it is Willie. I was even able to provide the GBI case number to the NamUs people and to the Assistant Deputy Director of the GBI, who stopped responding to me when I told her I had information regarding this man’s identity. (I have other information for her too, but its unrelated to this case). It seems that the data in NamUs is incorrect and outdated and that there is a disconnect between local law enforcement and the GBI. This is not the first time something like this has happened. It happened with the last unidentified person that I researched too. 

Marian Willie Jackson was the man found in the woods by hunters. His next of kin was his brother, who was contacted and handled the funeral. His brother is still alive, so I will leave his name out of this article and talk solely about Marian, who went by Willie. He was born in 1949, and was 40 years old at the time of his death. From what I have been able to dig up, if I have the correct person, it seems like Willie lived a bit of a transient lifestyle and was going through a difficult time in his life. I suspect that could be one of the reasons this case has stalled out. There was no publicity in the local papers, there is no internet presence aside from what can be seen on NamUs. There likely wasn’t much information to go on back then either.

I did manage to find a superior court notice in the Richmond County Chronicle, from October 17th of 1990 for a Willie Jackson, aged 40 years old. This person is the same age, uses the same name, and has a similar address. I think this may have been the same Willie Jackson who was found in the woods. The notice lists Willie as being “of 17 Gordon Motel” and goes on to mention a conviction for “criminal attempt to possess cocaine, sentenced under the first offender act to five years’ probation and fined $1,500”. If this is the same person then Willie was living in a motel in a not so nice area of town, and struggling with an addiction problem. Something terrible must have happened between his October conviction and January 27th of the next year, when only a part of him was found in the woods.

Somehow Willie went from alive in October to only partially found in January. That is a short time-frame. It is possible there was another missing Willie Jackson. If this is the same Willie Jackson, he may have run into trouble because of his addiction. It’s possible he was in with the wrong crowd, or he owed someone money. Or maybe he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and determined to be a risk to someone. He may have overheard something he shouldn’t have heard, seen something he shouldn’t have seen, or run across afoul of a gang. There is a lot of gang violence in this area, and there was a lot back then too. It is also a possibility that Willie chose to wander into the woods on his own and something happened in the woods and there wasn’t anyone around to help, or he got lost. I feel that there are still a lot of unknowns here and that an investigation into Willie’s death should have been in order, if it was not already conducted. And I still wonder why the hunters were unable to bring the police back to the location where they retrieved the skull. (Mentioned in my first article about this case) If I were to find a skull in the woods while out hunting, I would sure as heck mark the location so I could lead people back to it.

My next step in this mystery was to request actual documentation of the investigation into cause of death, which unfortunately for me is not something that the coroner had. I reached out to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, who was very fast and willing to help, but unfortunately the case had been purged since it was so old, and they no longer had a record of the death investigation. The Willie noted in the Richmond County Chronicle was likely the man found in the Columbia County woods. But how, and why, and when, did he get there? The mystery of his death was either solved back in the 90s, and put to rest, or possibly, never even investigated.

Link to Willie’s Unidentified Person NamUs Case

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