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Going Public: Southeast Professor and Her Students Identify Human Remains from Decades Old Cold Case

Anthony Redgrave

In March 2020, we brought you an interview with Dr. Jennifer Bengtson with the Department of History and Anthropology and two of her students at Southeast Missouri State University who were working to help identify human remains that were recovered in Charleston, Missouri, in 1979.

Bengtson and her students started their work by using traditional forensic anthropology methods to identify human skeletal remains from an unidentified individual. They submitted a DNA sample to a national missing persons registry but didn't receive any leads. So, they turned to a fairly new method, forensic geneology, to help with this particular case.

Their efforts were successful and they were able to identify the remains. It was determined that the death of the individual was not the result of a crime so no further law enforcement investigation is required in this case. Because it was not a homicide, the family has a right to keep the details private. The family told Bengtson that the man was known as Harry and that he drowned in the Mississippi River when he was in his mid-thirties in 1979. Even thought the family knew of his death, due to flood conditions at the time, the body was never recovered.

Bengtson said she was glad to be able to provide closure for the family.