More than three decades after hunters discovered a batch of human skeletal remains near a farm in central Ohio, authorities have identified the bones, formerly known as John Doe, as former Columbus resident Robert A. Mullins.
The remains were originally found on Nov. 1, 1991, in a shallow grave dug next to a private farm lane on the north side of an interstate highway, according to an announcement released Tuesday by the Ohio attorney general’s office . Officials have come to a number of conclusions about the identity of the deceased over the years, many of which have turned out to be false, the office said in a news release.
For example, the remains were initially believed to belong to an Indigenous person, before further review by anthropologists suggested they belonged to a woman, with height estimated at between 5 feet, 1 inch and 5 feet, 4 inches. At the time, the attorney general’s office said, staff involved in the investigation speculated that the remains had been in the ground for about three years before they were discovered.
For the next 31 years, investigators from the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office and the Pickaway County Medical Examiner’s Office continued to search for answers to the identity of the skeletal remains, using DNA technology to further the case as technology advanced. Eventually, the sheriff’s and coroner’s offices partnered with AdvanceDNA, a company that focuses on genetic and forensic genealogy, which uploaded a DNA profile culled from the unidentified remains to multiple databases in early 2022.
“This is a case about the progress of science,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said at a news conference Tuesday. “DNA gets better all the time. In 1991, you couldn’t extract DNA from bones. This required a next advancement called mitochondrial DNA.”
After spotting what authorities described as a significant lead on November 1, 2022 – the 31st anniversary of the discovery – they contacted Mullins’ family members and were eventually able to successfully match their DNA to the samples. taken from its remains.
“Thirty-one Christmases have passed while this family waited for answers,” Yost said in a statement. “When results weren’t immediate and the case went cold, Pickaway County law enforcement put their foot down and kept trying until the evolution of DNA technology finally produced an identity for John Doe”.
Mullins’ family said he disappeared in late 1988 or early 1989, officials said. They told investigators that he was about 21 years old at the time of his death and that he was 5 feet 3 inches tall, according to the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff’s officers thanked Mullins’ relatives for their cooperation on the case, as they are distant cousins of Mullins’ and have never met him, the office said in a statement.
The case remains an active homicide investigation, authorities said. They are asking anyone with information to report what they know to Lieutenant Jonathan Strawser at the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office.
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