Skeletal remains found in 1991 identified 31 years later using forensic genealogy


The skeleton has long been a mystery since hunters discovered it in 1991 on a private farm trail in Pickaway County, Ohio.

At first, authorities believed they were a Native American woman, about 25 years old, because of their small stature and the position they were in found, but Further investigation revealed that the remains had been buried in a shallow grave for no more than three years, according to the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office.

As DNA analysis and forensics improved over the years, more information came to light: In 2012, scientists at the University of North Texas were able to extract DNA from bones. But it only told investigators that the remains belonged to a man whose ancestry may have been in the Indian subcontinent.

“For many years, the only thing that was available was a DNA crime database,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said at a news conference Tuesday.

“So, you know, if your deceased, if your Doe, your Doe was a criminal, that would be great,” they might be in the database, he said. “But if it’s not, DNA isn’t going to do you any good.”

However, genetic genealogy is a game-changer. AdvanceDNA uploads DNA profiles to genealogy databases within a few months.

“We built a huge family tree of over 4,000 people,” said Amanda Reno from AdvanceDNA. “Our research extends to Virginia, Kentucky, Canada, and all the way to the UK,” she said.

The distant cousin and other relatives who matched the DNA volunteered their time and “checked in regularly for updates on his status,” she said.

“Through our research, we were able to build a specific profile for an individual,” she said.

Using the Multi-Step Verification Process, Investigators determined that the remains belonged to Robert A. Mullins of Columbus, Ohio,” the sheriff’s office said.

Mullins’ family said he disappeared sometime in 1988 or 1989, when he was 21, according to Yost’s office.

“It’s a case of scientific progress that DNA keeps getting better,” Yost said.

“We’re all going to die at some point — that’s the only certainty about our lives on this earth, but how tragic it is to die in the unknown — and there’s no name to put on a memorial,” Yost said.

“Today, that circle closes. It’s the first step toward justice for the rest,” Yost said.

For now, the investigation continues as a homicide investigation, authorities said.

“Based on the nature of the crime scene, we knew it was likely a homicide,” Yost said. “Now detectives have new information that allows them to get out and do what they do best: hit the streets.”

correct: An earlier version of this story misnamed the university where the DNA was extracted in 2012. It’s the University of North Texas.

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