Will County cold case: Investigators find new hope in identifying man murdered decades ago

In July 1980, Will County investigators found a man's body in a wooden crate in the Sanitary and Shipping Canal near Lockport. They say he'd been shot in the abdomen days earlier.

Decades have passed with no leads, but a DNA extraction and research company is giving investigators new hope.

"They don't know who he is. All they have is skeletal remains," said David Mittelman, CEO of Othram, a forensic DNA testing company based in Texas.

Various leads over the years have led nowhere.

"Basically, we've run out of leads," said Joe Piper, Will County investigator.

So why is this team from Will County — 42 years later — suddenly optimistic they'll solve the case?

"We're very hopeful," said Piper. "Last week, we cleared another case. A 1974 case."


The short answer is: they're two-for-two working with Othram, which extracts DNA from skeletal remains, then creates a DNA profile by doing a genealogical search of public databases — which allow access to law enforcement agencies — and hopefully come up with some kind of family tree.

"We may find a bunch of 2nd, 3rd and 4th cousins," said Mittelman. "If we can find a bunch of distant relatives, and we know who they are, then we can build a bunch of family trees and essentially, through the process of elimination, build out the family tree and figure out if there's someone that's missing."

All that's known about the victim is he was 5-foot-11, blonde, between 25 and 35 years old, was found with several sets of car keys, wearing a single house-slipper, and may have worked a blue collar job.

"We're just trying to close these cases," said Mike Earnest with the Will County Sheriff's Office. "Giving closure to the family. Obviously if there are criminal charges to pursue, we will."

The partnership between Will County and Othram is so far batting 1,000 — the company has helped them solve two cold cases; one from 1981, and the other dating all the way back to the early-1970s.