Scott County

Bones, teeth recovered in exhumation. Will they lead to identity?

Teen's body exhumed after 96 years

Scott County Coroner John Goble speaks about the exhumation of a 96-year-old grave in an attempt to identify the teen buried there.
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Scott County Coroner John Goble speaks about the exhumation of a 96-year-old grave in an attempt to identify the teen buried there.

Bones and teeth exhumed from a 96-year-old grave Friday hold half the answer to the identity of the teen buried there.

Now authorities hope to find the other half through a genetic match that will tell them who was buried beneath a 1921 stone with the poignant inscription “Some Mother’s Boy.”

It only took about 15 minutes of careful digging by backhoe operator Gene Cook to find the first bone in the grave at Georgetown Cemetery. Some minutes later, teeth were recovered.

The remains were put into a white baby casket for safekeeping. Samples will go to Scott County Coroner John Goble’s office and he will send them to the FBI headquarters in Washington D.C. for testing. Goble is confident that the identity of the teen will become known.

A person in Indianapolis has already called about the possibility of a link to the Georgetown body, Goble said, but he didn’t know how that person heard about the case.

Mouth swabs from that person and others will go into a DNA database. That information can be compared to the remains unearthed Friday to see if there are matches.

“My goal is to get him buried next to his mom and dad,” Goble said.

The teen was 16 or 17 when he was struck by a train on April 1, 1921, a Georgetown newspaper reported at the time. He and another young man had met in Cincinnati on their way south, and in Georgetown they had attempted to pass in front of a northbound train to catch a slow-moving passenger train on another track. The companion succeeded in crossing, but the 17-year-old was struck.

The dead teen’s clothes bore the name of a Chicago clothier, the newspaper said. The initials “W.A.” were engraved on one side of his watch, and “L.H.D.” was engraved inside the timepiece.

The boy was described as 5 feet 6 inches tall, weighed about 110 pounds, and had blue eyes and light brown hair.

Money collected locally paid for the casket and cemetery lot, and several people sent flowers and attended the 1921 burial. But the boy’s family was never found.

Friday’s exhumation echoed the “Tent Girl” mystery, another unidentified person case that was solved in 1998. DNA testing confirmed that the body found wrapped in canvas in Scott County in 1968 was Barbara Hackmann Taylor.

Two investigators from the Tent Girl case — Emily Craig of Georgetown, the former state medical examiner, and Todd Matthews, director of case management and communication for NamUs, a national organization that maintains a database of unidentified remains — attended Friday’s exhumation. Craig is married to Goble, the Scott County coroner.

Unlike the Tent Girl case, in Friday’s exhumation there are no probable matches “that we know of,” Craig said.

“This one is a total unknown,” she said.

Nevertheless, the exhumation demonstrates that Georgetown-Scott County is a place that cares, said Mayor Tom Prather.

“Even in the years that have passed since 1921, we still feel an obligation to ‘Some Mother’s Boy’ to return those remains to the folks that have lost this young man,” Prather said.

The confluence of advanced technology, DNA testing, and the availability of that testing performed at no cost to local governments made the exhumation possible now, Prather said. Federal funding for unidentified persons who died accidentally and not as the result of a criminal offense is about to run out.

“We think if we have the ability to provide answers, then we should do so,” Prather said.

There was a sense of reverence before the exhumation began. Scott County Judge-Executive George Lusby said a short prayer before digging commenced.

“My prayer is that you help us identify this body,” Lusby said. “And that the family can find some solace knowing this body has been identified and brought back.”

Mary Susan Kring of Georgetown also came out to watch the exhumation.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me,” Kring said. “It’s a very humbling, respectful time and I just wanted to come by.”

In addition to teeth and bones, the exhumation of more than four hours uncovered handles and other metal hardware from what might have been a pine box in which the body was buried, Goble said.

Officials could not say Friday what will happen with the gravestone.

“Those are questions we can answer only once we get an identity,” Prather said. “If there is remaining family, we would hope they would help us make those decisions.”