Police exhume body of unidentified murder victim from 1969
The body was brought to the state Medical Examiner's Office where a Salem police detective and evidence officer observed a new autopsy that could yield a DNA sample for the first time. Only scant information is known about the man. He was found Aug. 7, 1969, in a watery ditch by a road work crew walking along I-93 between exits 1 and 2. The body was already in a state of decomposition when it was found, but police at the time could see the man was riddled with bullets. He was shot twice in the head. Two other rounds pierced the torso and chest.
Police are hoping a combination of technology and new investigative methods could answer lingering questions about the murder.
Standing near an unmarked grave at Pine Grove Cemetery on Wednesday, Salem police Capt. James Chase said he was optimistic about extracting a DNA sample from the remains.
Investigators opened the steel casket while at the cemetery to learn that there was enough remains to take the next step in identifying the body. Teeth and other remains could be used to extract a DNA sample.
The skull also appears to be intact enough to develop a picture of the man's face, Chase said.
"It looks like we can definitely reconstruct it," he said. "Everything is there."
That job will be left to Harvey Pratt, an investigator with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, who pioneered a method of drawing that restores trauma or decomposition on a skull.
Pratt, who has worked on several high-profile murder cases, agreed to work on Salem's case for free, according to Chase. New Hampshire began taking a hard look at resolving scores of unsolved homicide cases in 2009 by starting a Cold Case Unit headed by state police.
The unit has made arrests in three cases so far, and prompted local police departments to review unsolved cases on their books.
Salem police solved the 1990 murder of John Pond Sr. using DNA taken from a blood sample and other evidence that pointed to a suspect who died at a halfway house in 2004. Chase said he is hopeful that a DNA sample from the unidentified man could match another sample in the Justice Department's National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
The database maintains information for more than 7,800 unidentified people, and roughly 7,100 entries for missing people.
Simply identifying the man will able to jump start a murder investigation, according to Chase.
"We're doing this to obviously bring closure to this man's family," he said.
Associate Chief Medical Examiner Jennie Duval and an anthropologist were also on hand for exhuming the body. A public works crew assisted with unearthing the vault with a back hoe.
The autopsy performed on Wednesday was observed by Salem Police Detective Michael White and evidence Officer Mark Babbitt. It should give police basic information that wasn't available when the body was initially found.
"We know the cause of death, but we're going to get a better idea of how old he was, how tall he was," Chase said.
He said it could take months for police to process some of the new evidence.
"We're waiting for a lead at this point," Chase said.
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James A. Kimble may be reached at JKimble@newstote.com.