Austin police asking for help identifying remains in 2021 cold case

The Austin Police Department (APD) is asking for the public's help identifying skeletal remains of an unidentified male.

Police said on Dec. 20, 2021, the skeletal remains of an unidentified male were found in a wooded area near Alum Rock Drive in Southeast Austin

The unknown person was estimated to be between 16 and 20 years old at the time of death. The man is considered White or Hispanic, and investigators believe he had black hair and brown eyes. 

Detectives can not determine his height and weight at this time. Despite the extensive efforts of law enforcement, the decedent's identity remains a mystery.

In January 2022, details of the case were entered into National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) as #UP87802. A forensic artist with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also created a forensic drawing to depict the man's appearance.

"A citizen was walking home and decided to take a shortcut through a field or a wooded area and just stumbled upon skeletal remains, what he thought was a human skull," Det. Daniel Jackson with the Austin Police Department said.

Police responded and eventually found a partial skeleton, but they haven't been able to figure out who he is. They say there were no signs of trauma to the remains that were found.

"There wasn't any soft tissue left, it was skeletonized, but not enough that they were so weathered that it was obvious for years. So we're thinking months to a few years, somewhere in that, but it's a huge estimation," Jackson said about the amount of time the remains may have been there.

Investigators started looking at missing persons in Austin that might fit the biological profile. They also sent the DNA profile to a database but didn't get any hits.

Now, APD is partnering with forensic genealogy company Othram.

"Right now, we are the only place on earth where you can get this type of DNA profile," Dr. Kristen Mittelman, chief development officer at Othram, said.

They do a feasibility assessment to make sure a case would work with their technology. It's much more detailed than a traditional DNA test.

"We're able to build DNA profiles that have hundreds and hundreds of thousands of markers that allow us to upload those profiles to DNA databases consented for law enforcement use that can be used for genealogy," Mittelman said.

DNASolves is Othram's advocacy site that crowdfunds for testing on previously unsolved cases across the country.

"Unfortunately, as with everything that's new, there is not enough federal funding for this technology right now," Mittelman said.

The Austin Police Department (APD) is asking for help on a 2021 cold case.

"We'll get it taken care of one way or another, but we thought maybe this is a good way to get [the case] out there," Jackson said.

Mittelman says it's heartwarming to see communities help create justice.

"It touches my heart, because we brought hope to people that lost hope after all these years of not having the right technology to actually get those answers," she said.

In the case of the Austin John Doe, the goal is to find a relative through genealogy to get a step closer to figuring out who he is. 

"We don't think they're a missing person in Austin, but they're somebody's missing person, right, it's somebody's child," Jackson said.

Anyone with information that could help this investigation should contact the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office by calling 512-854-9599 and referencing agency case number 21-07855 or NamUs #UP87802.

A DNASolves crowdfund has been created to raise funds for the remaining casework costs. Anyone can contribute here.