EASTPARK, KY — On July 18, 2020, a couple of hunters were making some preparations for the fall on a piece of land they leased on the edge of Boyd County, up at the Industrial Parkway.
The week prior, according to authorities, they had smelled something rancid, perhaps a dead animal. This time, they followed the stench — that’s when Boyd County Coroner Mark Hammond said they found a human buttocks sticking out of the ground.
On top of the buttocks was a bit of rock and the charred remnants of a fire, according to Hammond. Kentucky State Police Detective Matthew Boarman said that fire could have been from any number of scenarios — evidence disposal, trying to conceal a smell or lit by people who didn’t even know there was a human body underneath it.
Despite this being a rather secluded patch of land, it sees its share of traffic.
The location of the EastPark John Doe is about a mile from I-64, across from the Kentucky Veterans Cemetery North East. A little road bears off the right and loops into a fairly large lot — enough to turn a truck around.
Once the body was exhumed, it became quickly apparent to authorities they had a homicide on their hands — Boarman confirmed the victim had been shot.
“This is the first Doe we’ve had in 20, 25 years in Boyd County we weren’t able to identify within a week or two,” Hammond said.
The EastPark John Doe just isn’t much to work with, according to both Hammond and Boarman.
Doe was found in a shallow grave wearing nothing but boxer briefs, according to Boarman. The body was in various stages of decomposition — in terms of flesh, the underwear preserved that part of the body, but everything else had gone into purification, Hammond said. The skull had a some hair on it, but nothing else, Hammond said.
“Judging by the decomposition, we’re thinking two weeks to a month,” Hammond said.
Besides that — a body with only boxer briefs — there were no other personal effects located at the scene. No ID, no wallet, nothing. What little bit of flesh remained on the cadaver had no tattoos or scars — the rest of the body was so far gone, there was no telling what he looked like in life.
In fact, it wasn’t until the body was cleaned that they were even able to determine the EastPark Doe was a male, according to Hammond and Boarman.
The body was shipped to the State Medical Examiners Office in Frankfort where tests were run, according to Hammond. A forensic odontologist — a dentist who studies teeth in remains — determined Doe was between 20 and 40 years of age based on the wear of his teeth, according to Hammond. Those dental records were checked against a database, with no matches coming, Hammond said.
Due to the decomposition of the body, toxicology was taken from liver tissue, Hammond said. That led to a reading of enough drugs to kill a horse.
While the liver proves there were drugs in Doe’s system at the time of his death, the levels have to be disregarded, Hammond said.
Because the bones weren’t completely dried out, Hammond said the M.E.’s office extracted DNA from them and uploaded the data into the CODIS system, which houses DNA taken from arrestees and convicts nationally from participating jurisdictions. The DNA did not receive any matches, according to Hammond.
On the investigative front, KSP produced a three-paragraph press release within days following the discovery, listing the victim as 5-foot-8 in height, between 140-160 pounds and between 22 and 35 years of age.
Boarman said, at first, a couple leads were generated with members of the public coming forward reporting the Doe could possibly be a loved one. However, prior to a DNA test being conducted, the missing family member would be found in a hospital or a jail, Boarman said.
Due to the Doe’s proximity to the interstate, Boarman said “they literally could have come from anywhere.” Evidence collected at the scene supports two scenarios — Doe was killed at the burial site or he was killed off-site and disposed of later.
“We are hoping someone will come forward with some credible information,” Boarman said. “We had many leads in the beginning of this case, but they all turned out to be nothing. For the past several months, we haven’t had any leads.”
So now the body is being shipped to the University of Tennessee for genealogical DNA testing, the same method used to identify Chesapeake’s “Belle in the Well” as Louise Virginia Peterson Flesher in 2019.
Flesher went unnamed for 38 years, after being found in a cistern in 1981 with a bus ticket, a key to a bus locker, a pay stub and a Jerry Falwell commemorative coin. Police said she had been strangled and placed in the well with a rope around her neck and weighed down with a cinder block.
The project, started in 2017, uses genealogical DNA tracing to identify Does going back decades — the method is the same as used in identifying the Golden State Killer back in 2018, following decades of dead-ends and zero leads.
Once the body undergoes testing down in Tennessee — while tracing the genealogical map may take a while, getting the DNA out should take months, according to Hammond — Boarman said the FBI is on deck to perform a facial reconstruction of the victim.
Anyone with any information about the EastPark John Doe is asked to contact Kentucky State Police Post 14 at 606-928-6421.
Henry Culvyhouse is a reporter for the Ashland, Kentucky, Daily Independent. He can be reached at 606-326-2653 or email@example.com