Remains found in shallow Ohio grave in 1991 finally identified via DNA, genealogy

Human remains found in a shallow Ohio grave in 1991 are those of a missing Columbus man, officials said Tuesday, marking another cold homicide opened by advances in DNA and research genealogy.

The dead man found more than 31 years ago is Robert Mullins, 21, who went missing two or three years earlier, state prosecutors and Pickaway County sheriff’s deputies said.

“Thirty-one Christmases passed and I was thinking about the unnamed headstone,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost told reporters.

“We are all going to die at some point. It is the only certain thing about our lives on this earth. But what a tragedy to die unknown, to have no name to put on the memorial. Today , this circle is closing.”

Robert Mullins. (Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office via Facebook)

Two hunters stumbled upon Mullins’ skeleton north of State Route 56, just west of State Route 159, in Pickaway County on Nov. 1, 1991, state and local officials said.

Investigators originally believed the remains were those of a long-deceased Native American woman, around 25 years old, as the person was no more than 5ft 4in tall and the area’s long connection to communities indigenous.

Eventually, anthropologists determined that the remains had not been in the ground for over three years. And it wasn’t until 2012 that researchers at the University of North Texas tested that DNA and determined the body was that of a man of Indian ancestry, officials said.

Then in 2021, Pickaway County Sheriff’s Lt. Johnathan Strawser and Coroner Dr. John Ellis teamed up, seeking to match their John Doe to available public DNA databases in hopes of building the tree. genealogy of the man, officials said.

They brought in forensic genetic genealogy researchers from AdvanceDNA, who analyzed John Doe’s DNA and compared him to 4,000 people in the US and England – before narrowing down his tree to a father of Virginia and a mother with ties to England and India.

“After Robert’s sudden disappearance, his family searched for him, especially his late mother,” said Amanda Reno, director of genetic and forensic case management for AdvanceDNA.

“His family explained that his absence had been a great source of pain for their family. He was loved and they missed him.”

Sheriff’s investigators said they hope to one day find a suspect in Mullins’ murder.

“Now detectives have the new information (and) that will allow them to do what they do best: take to the streets, put the pieces together and watch the last days of Mr. Mullins’ life and find out who was behind it. do that to him because that person is probably still there,” Yost said.

Lt. Strawser said he was grateful for the help of all of Mullins’ blood relatives, who took a keen interest in the case, even though the victim was foreign to them.

“We would also like to thank Robert’s genetic parents who volunteered their time (and) family information,” Strawser said. “Robert was a distant cousin to them. Despite being someone they had never met, each of those loved ones played a key role in bringing him home to his family.”

The practice of matching the genetic material of victims and perpetrators to the millions of Americans who conduct DNA tests themselves at home has proven to be a valuable new asset for law enforcement.

Philadelphia police last week identified 4-year-old Joseph Augustus Zarelli as the “Boy in the Box” who was found beaten to death in 1957 and who had remained unnamed until recently.

And most famously, DNA and genealogy led police to the Golden State Killer, Joseph James DeAngelo, who terrorized California in the 1970s and 80s but wasn’t caught until 2018.

The serial killer received multiple life sentences for 13 murders and 13 rape charges, although he has been linked to numerous other sexual assaults.

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