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Thursday, 21 August 2014 00:00

Who is John Clinton Doe? Investigation heats up

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Jack Friess, Rock County Deputy Coroner, inspects a femur at the Rock County Coroner’s Office from which samples were taken and sent to the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute for analysis in the 20-year-old case of an unidentified man’s body discovered near Clinton. Jack Friess, Rock County Deputy Coroner, inspects a femur at the Rock County Coroner’s Office from which samples were taken and sent to the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute for analysis in the 20-year-old case of an unidentified man’s body discovered near Clinton. Rock County Coroner’s Office photo

STATELINE NEWS -- The man known as John Clinton Doe had a real name -- but no one knows what it is. That’s the question that keeps Rock County Deputy Coroner analyst Jack Friess up at night.

In 1995, a hunter discovered a body near Turtle Creek in the town of Bradford. Because of the proximity to Clinton, the Rock County coroner’s office dubbed the unidentified man as John Clinton Doe, or JCD for short. According to forensic evidence, the body likely went undiscovered for about a year and largely was decomposed at the time of its discovery.

The coroner was unable to determine the cause of death.

Although there were no signs of injury or struggle, authorities have been unable to completely rule out homicide or suicide. The only tangible lead uncovered at the time was that a witness came forward claiming that there was a chance they may have seen JCD alive in October 1994. They claimed that a year earlier they’d seen a drunken man running in Turtle Creek. A sketch was made based on the witness’s description, but it’s not clear who that person was.

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"I think what happened was the hunter who found the remains was talking with one of his friends and they got to thinking that there was an incident they remembered that might be connected," Friess said. "So they contacted the sheriff and told the story. We still can’t confirm that they are connected."

After a thorough preliminary investigation in the late ’90s, the case went ice cold. That is until Friess started digging up new leads over the past year.

"Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night thinking: Where did this guy come from? How did he get there? Why hasn’t his parents or anyone that knew him spoken up yet?" said Friess.

This is Rock County’s only case where a body is unidentified, and recent developments have Friess feeling that the coroner’s office may be getting closer to an answer.

Pinning down a location

After following up on a tip from a fellow investigator who solved a homicide in a similar way, Friess called Dr. Christine France of the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute in Washington, D.C., to inquire about the possibility of doing stable isotope analysis on a sample from JCD’s bones. The test is said to be able to eliminate up to 90 percent of the world when finding where someone spent his or her childhood years.

"I just called the Smithsonian out of the blue, and Dr. France was very inviting," Friess said. "I told her the sad story about how he has been nameless for 20 years and we haven’t been able to find anyone who knew him, so she said she’d help out."

Early last month the results came back, and they were able to determine that JCD spent most of his life in Wisconsin, Michigan or Minnesota.

The analysis examines chemicals left in a persons bones that come from the water they drink. By matching those chemicals to certain regions, a scientist is able to determine where a given person spent most of their life. It doesn’t seem like a big break, but according to Rock County Chief Deputy Coroner Lou Smit, it’s bigger than it looks. Before the test, investigators had to deal with the notion that JCD could have come from anywhere.

"It was significant in that we had been working on this case for quite some time and this eliminated the international aspect of things," said Smit. "It indicated that we were dealing with someone from within the nexus of Wisconsin, so it certainly helped our focus quite a bit."

Friess says the narrowing of search parameters also will help them target their search better.

"It’s a very big help," said Friess. "I can request many things like outstanding warrants or missing person reports, but when I request those, they are usually huge files. If I can say, I only need to look at Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan to start, that will pare it down to just a few thousand entries."

What’s next?

In addition to discovering where JCD probably lived, Friess and Smit adjusted their judgment on his age based on the original reports, a change that may prove important.

"We had done some mathematical recalculation from the original report and were able to refine the age parameter," said Smit. "We determined that he was toward the juvenile end of the spectrum rather than the adult end."

This change was useful immediately because it enabled a forensic artist to use all the information available, including a photo of the skull, to draw an updated, more youthful sketch. Also it helped Friess get two other agencies involved in the search.

"We had the case introduced to the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children because JCD was 17 to 20 years old, so that kind of puts him in the adolescent area," Friess said. "We also recently became a part of Violent Offenders Apprehension Program. This federal program gives us connections to the FBI, and they are possibly looking at doing another rendition of the skull so we can see what their artist sees in it as well."

With more agencies and databases devoted to the task of turning over new leads, the chances of finding out more about JCD’s case are significantly increased. Smit is also mulling the possibility of re-exhuming JCD to have a closer look at the remains.

"With new technology out there we could benefit from re-examination of his body and clothing possibly to generate additional leads," said Smit. "This time if we have him out, we’ll probably keep him out until we have him identified."

Smit is disappointed, however, that the actual skull was cremated in what he considers to be an oversight at the time of the original investigation.

"That was a colossal blunder for the skull to have been cremated," said Smit. "Even back in that time, it’s not like it was ancient times, that should not have occurred. There was no excuse for it as far as I’m concerned."

With new technology and advances, the skull may have yielded some important information, but all that remains of it are photographs.

Friess is determined however, and is planning to send out profiles to more agencies in hopes of broadening the search, and finally putting JCD to rest.

"We are about ready to send out a detailed profile to a number of different police and sheriff departments in the area and ask if they would go to their missing person files from around 1995 and see if they have anything listed," Friess said. "Right now he’s out there buried in a John Doe grave, and that just doesn’t seem right. It’d be so much better if we could give him a proper burial, have some remembrance for him and give him his name back."


If you have information that you think may be useful to this case, call the Rock County Coroner’s Office at 608-757-5908 or Detective Warren Yoerger at 608-757-7927

See sketches here.

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