Anonymous dead are rare, but still haunt investigators

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In the back of Magnolia Cemetery lie the buried ashes of a man nobody knows. His body was found behind Golden Harvest Food Bank on a frigid February morning in 2000 -- a single gunshot wound in the head had ended his life.

He might not be known in death, but he's certainly not alone. Although police say new technology has made unidentified bodies increasingly rare, John and Jane Doe cases still baffle investigators.

The latest was in June, when a man's body was found in the back of a tractor trailer full of cardboard on Walker Street. He had been there for several months. Before that, the bones of a woman were discovered near railroad tracks on Laney Walker Boulevard in March 2007.

Both are now in Atlanta, where detectives at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab will extract DNA and begin the long process of comparing it to a database of missing people. That can take years.

But the process isn't foolproof. Sometimes the dead are left anonymous.

Richmond County Coroner Grover Tuten said the discovery of the John Doe behind the Commerce Drive food bank still bothers him. The man was covered from head to toe in FUBU brand clothes and had one dollar in his pocket. Mr. Tuten said it seemed the young man -- believed to be in his mid-20s -- would be identified quickly. He wasn't.

"We didn't get any hits on it -- no inquiries or anything," Mr. Tuten said. "There's a mama and daddy out there somewhere that's missing a son, but they just haven't filed a report on him. Nobody seems to care."

Columbia County's last John Doe discovery was in 1997, according to Sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris. A group of land surveyors found the unidentified remains of a man while working near a creek in the 4900 block of Columbia Road. A handgun was found nearby. Capt. Morris said investigators now believe he is a Grovetown man named Kenneth Lee Hopson, reported missing near VFW Road in 1993.

"We have every reason to believe that it is Kenneth Hopson, and we have been in contact with family members in Virginia," he said. "We collected DNA from the brother and sent skeletal remains of the victim. That was done in April of this year, and we are currently awaiting those results."

Advances in forensic science, such as DNA testing, mean John and Jane Doe cases are increasingly rare, officials said. According to Aiken County Sheriff's Lt. Michael Frank, it has meant no recent unidentified deaths in Aiken County.

"With the advent of DNA and other techniques, we haven't seen too many cases where we haven't been able to make a positive ID," he said.

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or


The pauper section in West View Memorial Gardens is typically the final resting place for the unidentified dead.

Other individuals buried in the pauper section include people whose next of kin could not be located and those who cannot afford to bury a loved one, Coroner Grover Tuten said.

So far, 26 people have been buried in the pauper cemetery this year at a cost of about $23,000.

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426Hemi 08/21/08 - 08:09 am
Once DNA is collected, why

Once DNA is collected, why not have the remains cremated and SAVE a whole bunch of money?

AugustaVoter 08/21/08 - 08:18 am
This is a sad story. However

This is a sad story. However I would question whether the good old boys have even ventured to look outside the southeastern part of the US to locate identities. You know people travel and come from all parts. No reason why the Commerce Dr. man shouldn't be id'ed by now. In your 20's you have friends even if it was just one. Everyone has at least 1 person who thinks about them and cares. I would also wonder if the FBI has been contacted or we just kept these case "in house" at the GBI level.

SargentMidTown 08/21/08 - 08:53 am
If Augusta Richmond County

If Augusta Richmond County Government does not "make it uncomfortable" for places like Mercy Ministries to pop up there will probably be many more Janes and John Does found dead. The more religious groups hand out goods and services the more free loaders they will attract. Alcohol and drug abuse is the biggest contributing factor to "homelessness". That and just plain sorry -ness.

justtired 08/21/08 - 01:09 pm
Interesting series of

Interesting series of thoughts and comments so far. Sad: But interesting.

mable8 08/21/08 - 01:58 pm
Maybe they should have a

Maybe they should have a 'cold case file' unit to reinvestigate unsolved cases. Although the living may not know who this young man is, God does. It is a sad and pitiful commentary on how some people view life.

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