More than three decades after hunters discovered a string of human skeletal remains near a ranch in central Ohio, authorities have identified the bones, formerly known as John Doe, as former Columbus resident Robert A. Mullins.
The remains were originally found on Nov. 1, 1991, in a shallow grave dug next to a private farm road on the north side of an interstate highway, according to an announcement released Tuesday by the Ohio Attorney General’s office. Officials came to a number of conclusions over the years about the identity of the deceased, many of which turned out to be false, the office explained in a press release.
For example, the remains were initially believed to belong to an indigenous person, before further research by anthropologists suggested they belonged to a female, with an estimated height between 5 feet, 1 inch and 5 feet, 4 inches. At the time, the attorney general’s office said, staff involved in the investigation suspected the remains had been buried in the ground for about three years before they were discovered.
Over the next 31 years, investigators from the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office and the Pickaway County Coroner’s Office continued to search for answers about the identity of the skeletal remains, using DNA technology to advance the case as technology advanced. Ultimately, the sheriff’s and coroner’s offices partnered with AdvanceDNA, a company focused on genetic and forensic genealogy, which uploaded a DNA profile of the unidentified remains to multiple databases in early 2022.
“This is a matter of the advancement of science,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said at a news conference Tuesday. “DNA is getting better and better. In 1991 you couldn’t extract DNA from bones. That required a later development called mitochondrial DNA.”
After seeing what authorities described as a major lead on November 1, 2022 — the 31st anniversary of the discovery — they contacted Mullins’ relatives and were eventually able to successfully match their DNA with the samples taken from his remains. were taken.
“Thirty-one Christmases have passed as this family waited for answers,” Yost said in a statement. “When the results weren’t immediate and things started to get cool, the Pickaway County Police Department jumped on their heels and kept trying until the evolution of DNA technology finally produced an identity for John Doe.”
Mullins’ family reported he went missing in late 1988 or early 1989, officials said. They told investigators he was about 21 years old at the time of his death and was 5 feet 8 inches tall, according to the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff’s officers thanked Mullins’ family members for cooperating with the case, as they are Mullins’ distant cousins and have never met him, the office said in a statement.
The case remains an active murder investigation, authorities said. They ask anyone with information to report what they know to Lieutenant Jonathan Strawser of the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office.
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