Update, 1 July 2022: We were contacted by a family member of Bill Lewis, who was identified by our Forensic Genetic Genealogy team late last year. His family would like to invite members of the public and individuals who cared about and helped on Bill’s case over the years to a memorial service to be held in Peru, Indiana in August. The family requests that media please not attend.
Good evening, I come to you in Honor of William Joseph Lewis. Our Family has planned a Memorial service for August 4, 2022 at 4:00pm in Peru, Indiana. We would like the community and those that helped with the case to be aware of the services. An if anyone would like to attend it will be open to the public. Click here for directions to the cemetery. To leave a note or virtual flowers on Bill’s find-a-grave profile, click here.
Jasper County John Doe (1983) Identified Using Forensic Genetic Genealogy by Redgrave Research Forensic Services
Press release 12/2/2021
Redgrave Research Forensic Services, a company in Massachusetts which specializes in the use of Forensic Genetic Genealogy, working in cooperation with the coroner’s office of Jasper County, Indiana, have successfully identified the Jasper County John Doe who was an unidentified victim of serial killer Larry Eyler. The young man, who was murdered by Eyler in 1982, has been confirmed to be William Joseph “Bill” Lewis, age 19, of Peru, Indiana.
On October 15th, 1983, skeletal remains were discovered on a private plot of land in Jasper County, Indiana in a rural area outside of Rensselaer by a man checking and setting fox traps. Authorities arrived on the scene, and officials determined that the remains belonged to that of a white male with shoulder-length reddish-brown hair, approximately 18 to 26 years of age, who was the victim of a homicide. Despite the best efforts of investigators, he remained unidentified.
About a decade later in 1994, convicted and imprisoned serial killer Larry William Eyler confessed to his attorney, Kathleen Zellner, that he had killed the John Doe along with 20 other young men and boys. Eyler stated that he had picked up the young man around the weekend of November 20th, 1982 along US Route 41 in the Vincennes area, and driven him several hours north to Jasper County, where he would later be discovered. Eyler was unable to provide a name or relevant information about the identity of the victim, but authorities concluded that he was responsible for the man’s death based on the confession. The details of his confession led to law enforcement producing the first forensic sketch of Jasper County John Doe.
Forensic images of Jasper County John Doe
L: FBI sketch; R: Forensic art by Anthony Redgrave
In January of 2021, Redgrave Research Forensic Services student intern Bryan Worters approached Andy and Diana Boersma of the Jasper County Coroner’s Office to offer assistance in identifying this young man. While awaiting DNA data, Anthony Redgrave was provided with photos of the victim’s skeletal remains to produce a second piece of forensic art, which he did with consultation from Dr. Samantha Blatt, assistant professor of Anthropology at Idaho State University. From January to September of 2021, the victim’s DNA was processed and then uploaded to GEDmatch. Worters, under the guidance of lead forensic genetic genealogists and instructors Anthony Redgrave and Lee Bingham Redgrave, led the genealogical research. Together, the team of forensic genetic genealogists and student interns found a potential candidate for identification in just six days.
Under the direction of Jasper County Coroner Andy Boersma, team member Katie Thomas was granted permission to make initial contact with the candidate’s family with the accompaniment of police in order to obtain a DNA sample and gather further information. The DNA sample, which was collected from a full sibling of the candidate, was compared to that of the victim. This confirmed that the relationship between the two is consistent with that of a full-sibling relationship.
Undated photograph of William Joseph “Bill” Lewis, provided by the Lewis family.
William Joseph Lewis, nicknamed “Bill”, was born on October 13th, 1963. Described as a quiet person by his siblings, Bill was a football player for his high school team until he broke his left leg, leading him to withdraw from school. He was last seen by relatives in Houston, Texas in February of 1982, where he attended a friend’s funeral and left afterward to return to Indiana. Following this, his family did not hear from Bill again, and have spent the ensuing decades searching for him.
“I am very proud of how hard our genealogy team worked to find Bill’s name, and we are so glad to be able to help Bill get home to his family. We are humbled by their kindness.” Anthony Redgrave said. Bryan Worters adds, “We would like to offer our condolences and thanks to Bill’s family, whose cooperation was essential. Everyone who worked on Bill’s case hopes that these newfound answers can bring about healing for his family. We are incredibly honored to reunite Bill with his loved ones.”
Redgrave Research Forensic Services would like to acknowledge the hard work of everyone who has been involved in Bill’s case over the years, including responding officer Paul Ricker and his colleagues who were all initially on the scene and later raised money for his grave marker, Dr. Stephen Spicer and Dr. John Pless for the initial autopsy report, Kathleen Zellner for taking Eyler’s confession, DNA Solutions for the DNA extraction, HudsonAlpha Discovery for the whole-genome sequencing, and Kevin Lord of Saber Investigations for bioinformatics.
We especially would like to thank Andy and Diana Boersma of the Jasper County Coroner’s Office for all of their dedication and efforts in taking care of Bill while exhausting lead after lead to reunite him with his family, and for entrusting us to assist in this case. We would additionally like to thank team member Katie Thomas, who did an incredible job making initial and subsequent contact with Bill’s family, and the Tomball Police Department who accompanied her. Additionally, we would like to thank everyone who has uploaded their own DNA to GEDmatch.com to assist forensic genetic genealogists in our work.
Original Case Announcement Jul 18 2021:
Redgrave Research Forensic Services has taken on the case of Jasper County John Doe (NamUs #UP11379), an unidentified victim of serial killer Larry Eyler. Working with Andy and Diana Boersma of the Jasper County Coroner’s Office, we are preparing to perform forensic genetic genealogy in an attempt to discover his identity. Forensic genetic genealogy intern Bryan Worters will be co-leading the case alongside Anthony Redgrave. Because Eyler often targeted men within the gay community, the case is being considered within the scope of the Trans Doe Task Force/LAMMP (LGBTQ+ Accountability for Missing and Murdered Persons), and an all LGBTQ+ and informed ally genealogy team is being assigned to the case.
On the morning of October 15th, 1983, an individual who was setting and checking fox traps on private property near the town of Rensselaer in Jasper County, Indiana came across what he believed to be human remains. He immediately contacted the Jasper County Sheriff’s police, with responding officer Paul Ricker being the first on the scene.
Ricker and his colleagues observed partial skeletal remains strewn about the property, with many of the pieces fragmented. After the bone fragments were gathered, they were sent to Jasper County’s (then) coroner, Dr. Stephen Spicer. In collaboration with Dr. John Pless of the Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis, the two would deduce much from the sum of thirty bone fragments recovered.
The victim was estimated to be a white male, approximately 18 to 26 years of age, had shoulder-length reddish-brown hair, stood at an estimated 5’6” (168 cm) to 5’8” (172 cm), and was believed to have previously fractured his left femur. Stainless steel tooth caps were noted at teeth #19 and #30, along with amalgam restorations at #2, #3, and #12. Anthropologist consultation suggests that one of the restored teeth was applied backward. Several articles of clothing were also discovered at the scene, including a gray hooded sweatshirt, a pair of Levi brand jeans and a brown belt in a size 28”, gray/burgundy socks, and suede athletic shoes in a size 11 ½. Additionally, a zippo lighter with the name ‘ARLENE’ engraved onto it was found near the remains. Officials determined that the young man was the victim of a homicide and was deceased for approximately one to two years. Despite the numerous identifying characteristics, no missing person reports in the area fit the man’s description, nor did anyone claim to know the identity of John Doe.
Not long after this discovery, authorities linked the remains to a rash of murders in Indiana and Illinois, with many of the victims speculated to be hitchhikers, sex workers, and/or were members of the LGBTQ+ community. The murder series ended with the arrest of Larry Eyler, who was convicted for two counts of homicide and given a death sentence. But before Eyler’s execution date was slated to happen, he died from AIDS-related complications on March 6th, 1994. Two days after his death, his attorney, Kathleen Zellner, held a press conference which disclosed that Eyler had confessed to a further 19 murder victims, including the unidentified young man found in Jasper County over a decade earlier. Eyler described the man to an FBI sketch artist, who rendered a forensic image of how he may have appeared in life.
Eyler recalled that on or around the weekend of November 20th, 1982; he met a hitchhiker, possibly a college student from a nearby university, of about 20 to 22 years old along Highway 41 close to what was believed to be Vincennes, Indiana. The two went through a fast-food establishment’s drive-thru, where Eyler ordered a coke that he mixed rum into. Once they left the drive-thru, Eyler began to drive north on the interstate with the hitchhiker, whom he offered beer and Placidyl. The young man accepted the offer, drinking several beers and taking two pills. By the time the pair had reached Jasper County, the hitchhiker was semiconscious. [Details of the crime redacted pending notification of family].
Even after the unknown man’s discovery, the people of Jasper County honored the individual whom they never knew in life. Several years after John Doe’s initial discovery, Paul Ricker and his fellow first responders raised money to afford a gravestone for a plot of land in Sayler Makeever Cemetery in Rensselaer, Indiana.
From Bryan Worters:
Though there has been a sizable amount of coverage on Eyler’s cases, most notably Gera-Lind Kolarik and Wayne Klatt’s book Freed to Kill, the case never quite reached the same levels of attention as the likes of other serial murderers, such as Ted Bundy or Richard Ramirez. It seemed as if Larry Eyler’s name had faded from the public consciousness of the Midwest, the victims pushed further towards the periphery. That same lack of public intrigue sparked my interest in the case, knowing that there were several men who had met such an excruciatingly brutal fate and remained unidentified left me verklempt, including the young man found in Jasper County, whom I call “Ellis”.
Ellis’ case has changed hands over the years, but now resides in the company of the current coroners of Jasper County, Andy and Diana Boersma. The Boersmas have been looking to uncover the identity of the young man since they inherited the case over a decade ago. The husband-wife duo has gone to great lengths in order to identify the young man, from pushing for DNA extraction to be entered into the CODIS system, to maintaining contact with Kathleen Zellner for additional information. The utmost priority for the Boersmas is to have the man be returned to his family. The Redgrave Research team and I intend to aid them in bringing Ellis home to his loved ones.
To assist in the search for Ellis’ identity, Anthony Redgrave has rendered a new forensic image of Ellis based on photos of the skull, the description that Eyler had provided, and in consultation with anthropologist Dr. Samantha Blatt of Idaho State University.
Redgrave Research would like to thank DNA Solutions for the DNA extraction, HudsonAlpha Discovery for the whole-genome sequencing, and Kevin Lord of Saber Investigations for bioinformatics. We would also like to thank those who have been involved with Ellis’ case since his discovery, the Boersmas, Kathleen Zellner, and those who have continued to spend their time, effort, and dedication to honoring a young man who they never personally knew.
If you have any information relating to the identity of Ellis/Jasper County John Doe (1983), please contact Andy Boersma at 219-956-2220 or 219-863-3560.
Read more about Jasper County John Doe