Bristol County Cold Cases Heat Up in Push to Identify Bodies
A human skull found by a quahogger near the Back Eddy in Westport. The body of a baby boy found in the woods in Freetown. A murdered woman found wrapped in garbage bags and floating in the water at Popes Island Marina in New Bedford.
These and other unidentified human remains unearthed across Bristol County over the past 40 years may soon be resolved, after the local prosecutor announced a new project to identify all of the bodies.
The Bristol District Attorney's Office announced Friday that its cold case unit is now actively working to find a name for every unidentified body or skeletal remains discovered since the 1980s.
Prosecutors say traditional identification methods, like using fingerprints or dental records, have not yielded results in these cases.
The initiative will go along with the cold case unit’s efforts to solve murders, rapes and other violent crimes with help from local and state police and other law enforcement partners, according to the office.
New technology and forensic testing — including genetic genealogical DNA testing — may help identify these people, some of whom were murdered.
Testing will be conducted through nationally recognized agencies and labs that specialize modern forensic identification techniques, the D.A.'s office stated.
These include the FBI, NamUs, the University of North Texas for Human Identification, The Doe Project, Season of Justice and Othram laboratories.
“Identifying these remains is part of our ongoing Cold Case initiative. We are trying to identify these remains so that family members can have some closure and to also determine if a crime was committed,” said District Attorney Thomas Quinn said.
“Our Cold Case Unit has been successful in solving multiple cold case homicides and previously unsolved violent sexual assaults. The unit is now expanding its efforts to focus on unidentified remains."
Anyone with any information on the following cases is urged to contact the Bristol County District Attorney's Office or Lt. Ann Marie Robertson of the Massachusetts State Police Unresolved Unit at (508) 961-1918 or AnnMarie.Robertson@pol.state.ma.us.
The list of unsolved cases involving unidentified human remains provided by the office include:
Baby Boy, Freetown, 1983
On Nov. 6, 1983, a man heading north on Route 24 stopped at a Freetown rest area bordering the Assonet River, where he met a family of four who told him that they found a dead infant while they were picking mushrooms. The man alerted police, who found the unclothed body of a newborn baby boy, thought to be Caucasian.
The infant had been abandoned in the woods and had died of exposure several hours prior to his discovery. He was later buried at the Notre Dame Cemetery in Fall River. Authorities have his DNA profile from a blood sample, and investigators are working with the FBI’s Genealogy Unit and Othram labs to identify the child.
Construction Site Skeleton Leg, Taunton, 1984
On Aug. 30, 1984, Taunton police received a report of skeletal remains found as dirt was being moved at a construction site at the Myles Standish Industrial Park. The contractor told police that the dirt had been trucked to the site, but its origin could not be determined.
Police searched the area and recovered human bones from the lower right leg of an adult over 30 years old, including a tibia, fibula and foot bones that were still inside a wool sock. FBI investigators estimated the bones were exposed to the elements for at least 10-15 years before their discovery. A mitochondrial DNA profile has been obtained through the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification.
Baby Boy, Mansfield, 1985
On Jan. 26, 1985, a father and son hunting rabbits in the woods near Fruit Street in Mansfield found the naked body of a newborn baby boy partially covered by snow and near some footprints. The father and son drove to the nearby airport to call police, who recovered the body of a Caucasian infant boy later found by the medical examiner to have died shortly after his birth.
The boy was buried at Spring Brook Cemetery in Mansfield. Evidence recovered from the baby’s body is being tested.
Male Skeleton Off I-195, Fairhaven Homicide, 1986
On April 8, 1985, the skeleton of an adult man and remnants of his clothing were found in the woods along the westbound side of I-195 in Fairhaven. Fairhaven police recovered the man's skeleton and a number of spent projectiles.
After the medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, the FBI laboratory found the man may have been Caucasian, was around 5ft 9in tall, and likely in his 30s or 40s. He may have been of slight build and wore a size 10 ½ shoe. A DNA sample has been recovered and genetic genealogy testing is ongoing.
Floating Female Murder Victim, Popes Island Marina, New Bedford, 1996
On Oct. 30, 1996, New Bedford police were alerted to a body found wrapped and tied in plastic garbage bags floating in the water at Popes Island Marina. An autopsy revealed that the body was a Caucasian woman in her 30s, with red/brown hair around 10 inches long, and brown/hazel eyes. She was 5ft 1in tall and weighed around 120 lbs. Her body was beaten and shot and her death ruled a homicide.
Dental work and a ring she was wearing suggest that she might originally be from Eastern Europe, near Belarus or Poland. Collected DNA evidence and searches of CODIS and Interpol have not helped identify the victim. The FBI is currently using forensic genetic genealogy to try to identify her.
Man's Body in Landfill, Fall River, 2005
On Aug. 29, 2005, Fall River police received a report of a body found at the BFI landfill site on Airport Road. They found the body of African American man who seemed to be in his 30s, around 5ft 8in tall, and 170 lbs. An autopsy showed that he recently had medical treatment to his left ankle, and had died within a week of his body being discovered.
A further search at the landfill suggested his body might have been transported there in a dump truck from Peabody or the North Shore area. Attempts to identify the man using fingerprints and dental records were unsuccessful. A full DNA profile was later developed, but the main remains unidentified.
Man's Skull, Westport, 2010
On Oct. 6, 2010, a man quahogging near a vacant boat slip behind the Back Eddy restaurant in Westport recovered a human skull from around 8-10 feet of water. He wrapped it in plastic and brought it to Westport police. The medical examiner confirmed it was a human skull. The State Police Underwater Recovery Team searched the area, but found but no other evidence or skeletal remains.
Further examination by a forensic anthropologist suggested that the skull likely belonged to a Caucasian man 30-70 years old who died at least six months — but possibly years — before his discovery. Three men have died or been lost in boating mishaps near the Westport Harbor entrance in the 1970s. Although parts of two of these men were later recovered, their skulls were not.
A DNA profile of the skull was successfully extracted, but it was insufficient to upload to CODIS. Testing is underway using a DNA sample from a family member of one of the missing men. If unsuccessful, the DNA sample will undergo further forensic genetic genealogical testing.
Human Skulls — Westport, 2019, Dartmouth, 2021, and New Bedford, 2021
On May 26, 2019, a woman and her daughter walking along Cherry and Webb Beach in Westport called police to report finding a possible human skull. The medical examiner confirmed the skull was that of an adult human, but no age, sex, race or estimate of when the death occurred could be determined. A DNA profile was later recovered and uploaded to CODIS, but no identification was made.
On Jan. 3, 2021, a man walking along the shoreline of Little Beach in Dartmouth found the top part of a human skull above the high tide mark. He contacted police, who recovered the remains. No other remains were found. The medical examiner confirmed it was a human skull. The skull has been sent to Bode Laboratory to determine whether DNA can be recovered.
On Jan. 22, 2021, New Bedford police received a call from a man on Fish Island who said he could see a human skull on the ocean floor in around 3-4 feet of water. Police responded to the southwest shoreline of Fish Island, where fishing vessels were docked, and saw the skull. Dive team members recovered the skull but found no other remains. The medical examiner confirmed it was a human skull but could not determine the race, sex, age or how long ago the person may have died. This skull has also been sent to Bode Laboratory to recover DNA.