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.