Skeletal remains found on Arizona Strip still unidentified after 4 years. Can NamUs bring answers?

A group of hikers stumbled upon human remains on the Arizona Strip just southeast of St. George, Arizona Strip, Arizona, Nov. 15, 2014 | Photo courtesy of Ruben Togisala, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Human remains were discovered by Boy Scouts in northern Arizona in 2014. Nearly four years later, investigators still haven’t been able to put a name to the remains.

This 2014 file photo shows human remains that a group of hikers stumbled upon southeast of St. George on the Arizona Strip, Arizona, Nov. 16, 2014 | Photo courtesy of Ruben Togisala, St. George News

The Boy Scouts from Cedar City stumbled upon the skeletal remains Nov. 15, 2014, during a 20-mile hike on the Arizona Strip. Among the remains were a skull, ribs, vertebrae, femur, arm bone and tailbone. Mohave County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene at the time.

Read more: Boy Scouts discover human remains on Arizona Strip

Anita Mortensen, public information specialist for the Sheriff’s Office, said the remains were sent for DNA testing, and there have been no matching results from the testing. The investigation is still ongoing.

Cases of unidentified remains can be found on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, a national information database also referred to as “NamUs” that allows law enforcement, medical examiners and coroners to share case information of the unidentified, unclaimed and missing. According to NamUs, 4,400 unidentified bodies are recovered each year, and the number of unidentified persons cases varies widely by state.

Screenshot of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System website showing some results for unidentified cases in Utah | Screenshot from NamUs.gov, St. George News | Click on image to enlarge

In Arizona, the state where the human remains were found in 2014, there are 1,634 unidentified persons cases on NamUs. In Utah, there are 29, with the oldest case dating back to 1973.

On NamUs, the male human remains found in 2014 are known as case No. 14-1664. The only information provided on who this man might be is his approximate age and hair color and the accessories and clothing found near the remains.

While NamUs can prove useful for law enforcement and medical examiners, there’s usually no law requiring them to use the database. According to the National Institute of Justice, New York was the first state to legislate a mandated use of the system in 2016.

Although the use of NamUs is not mandated in all states, as of July 2018 it has aided in resolving 1,434 unidentified cases.

Morgue stock image | Photo by NagyDodo/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

Human remains that end up at the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner stay there until they are identified. Medical examiner Erik Christensen said during his 10 years working at the office, he hasn’t experienced human remains going unidentified for long periods of time.

It’s unusual for Utah to have long term unidentified bodies,” he said.

Since it’s not possible for medical examiners to do an autopsy on skeletal remains, Christensen said, they will look for unique features on the bones to help identify the remains. This is done with the help of an anthropologist.

When dental records don’t provide any results, physical characteristics that are evident on bones — genetic disorders, diseases and healed fractures — can help identify human remains, according to Investigating Forensics.

Christensen said medical examiners use DNA testing as a last resort because out of all testing, DNA testing can take the longest.

Although NamUs can help law enforcement and medical examiners solve unidentified cases, Christensen said, “there are always some cases that go unidentified.”

To learn more about NamUs and open cases in Utah, visit its website.

Email: mheckenliable@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @markeekaenews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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10 Comments

  • General Seamstress July 15, 2018 at 6:38 pm

    There was a missing writer in 1913 who had a bunch of donkeys that ppl search for? Wonder how old the clothing pieces are. Very sad someone died all alone with no namr

  • Brian July 15, 2018 at 11:47 pm

    I wonder if they can extract DNA from the bones and use the various DNA / genealogy websites to narrow it down to family lines. They’re using those to solve serious criminal cases, so it seems like it may work in a case like this, too.

  • Carpe Diem July 16, 2018 at 7:21 am

    The DNA can easily be pinpointed as to race, ie: !00% Northern European (White) or with a different mix that might indicate if he was hispanic. Skeletons of this nature are not uncommon along the desert immigration trails of Arizona and Texas. This isnt one of those locations that has an immigrant trail though. Might be an indication why there aren’t many DNA matches if from south of the border. Would sure help to know. With no vehicle to match with, seems like he was ditched.

  • Carpe Diem July 16, 2018 at 10:04 am

    Re-reading this, apparently NAMUS is actually determining the race / ethnicity in most cases, but this guy is undetermined as yet.

    “Skeletal remains were discovered in hiking area near Colorado City known as “Honeymoon Trail”. Near the remains a light gray colored hoodie sweatshirt with the logo “The ARTS” and “MORIN CATHOLIC” was located, as well as men’s pants, size 36Wx32L with a black leather belt with a square metal buckle. Also found was a dark colored pin-striped shirt and a precious moment blanket with a white goose. A Safeway club card, Gatorade bottle and Marlboro Menthol cigarettes were also found with the remains.”

    Would think two things: He is a smoker so not a St. George local… Ahem…I mean he has only a Safeway Card. No Safeway in town. Then…One would think the card would be linked to his personal info. For sure investigators thought of this. ?

  • Carpe Diem July 16, 2018 at 10:08 am

    Also his sweatshirt says Marin not Morin, it’s from a very active Catholic church in Marin County CA. There are Safeway stores in Marin County. My guess is he is from that area.

    • comments July 16, 2018 at 11:42 am

      good work sherlock. so, from all this we can assume this was an illegal mexican?

      • Carpe Diem July 16, 2018 at 12:49 pm

        Not likely. Found out he had longish, dishwater blonde hair with some gray. I’m guessing the DNA would give him 90% + Northern European based on that. But since it’s been 4 years and never updated, I dont expect we’ll find out. He had a Safeway shopper card, I don’t understand why that hasnt led to him unless he is like me and had a couple cards never registered. I throw mine away and dont keep them tho.

  • Mike P July 17, 2018 at 10:54 am

    Boy, someone watches too many Police shows. A Safeway card and a shirt from Marin County Ca. Gotta be an illegal Mexican.!! What the hell is a illegal Mexican? Hate to tell ya, but it’s not illegal to be a Mexican. Also, there are smokers in St. George. Probably not many but I’ve seen ’em. Just sayin’.

    • comments July 17, 2018 at 6:32 pm

      You were there, mike pee. Tell us all about it 😉 hahahaha

      • Mike P July 18, 2018 at 9:49 am

        OMG. Still at it comments? And mike “pee”? come on!! , what?, you in the 3rd grade? Seriously, do you really think that’s funny? I can just imagine you hiding there behind your keyboard, giggling like a little girl. Funny, funny little man.

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