Dover Police are reporting they've received numerous tips, but no firm information on the identity of a man whose body was found in 2012.
As mysteries go, it’s a pretty big one.
For almost two years, Dover detectives have worked to identify the remains of a man whose body was found in a wooded section near two of the city’s largest retail stores.
Sadly, despite new information that’s been released since June 30, including a forensic reconstruction of the man’s features, nothing substantial has turned up.
“We have received dozens of calls and emails from people who believe they recognize the man,” said Dover Police Department spokesman Cpl. Mark Hoffman. “Unfortunately none of them has panned out as being correct yet.”
The remains were discovered the afternoon of Nov. 2, 2012, by a person exploring the wooded area behind the Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse at 1450 N. Dupont Highway, said Dover Police Department Lt. Jason Pires.
“This person called us and told us he’d found a body,” Pires said, adding the corpse was hanging from a tree with a clothesline-type cord around the neck.
“There were no signs of foul play, so that was probably self-initiated,” Pires said.
Detectives immediately canvassed local businesses with a general description, but came up empty handed.
“Our detectives did everything they could to try to find out who he was,” Pires said. “There were no missing person reports filed that would match his description.”
Dover detectives then turned over the remains to the Delaware Office of the Medical Examiner.
The remains were almost completely skeletonized, but some mummified tissue remained on the bones, said Hal Brown, deputy director of the medical examiner’s office.
“In our attempts to identify this person, we looked at several potential identifiers,” he said.
Although the man’s skin was highly desiccated, police were able to pull a print from one of his fingers, but that was a dead end, as were attempts to identify his tattoos, even though they were posted on several websites frequented by tattoo artists.
The ME’s office checked dentition records from a national criminal identification database.
“We got no hits on that,” Brown said.
Next, they analyzed the man’s mitochondrial DNA which could pinpoint characteristics passed down from his maternal ancestors.
There were no results there, either, Brown said.
After several months of frustrating work, Brown’s office took up an offer of help from Denton County, Texas, Deputy Sheriff Leslie Willingham in the hopes she could create a sculpture of what the mystery man probably looked like.
Willingham, a 24-year law enforcement veteran, started working in forensic art 11 years ago. In addition to reconstructing the features of unknown persons, she creates composite drawings of criminal suspects.
Brown took the unknown man’s skull to a Wilmington firm, which created a three-dimensional CAT scan image; the digitized file was emailed to Texas, and a firm there used the data to craft the resin duplicate Willingham used for her work.
The skull had a number of unusual features that complicated Willingham’s task.
“Every forensic artist that looked at photos of the skull were just fascinated by it,” she said.
Facial reconstructions are based on standard medical measurements showing the general depth of muscle in different parts of the skull. With the mystery man, Willingham had to make some adjustments.
Willingham noted the right side of the skull was shorter than the left and one eye socket was different than the other. The man also had a prominent brow ridge and unusual features around the nasal cavity that affected the shape of his nose.
“I started work, but it was mindboggling to me,” she said. “I knew this would be a challenge, and it was, it definitely was.”
Willingham worked on the recreation, along with her regular duties for several months, completing the task in late June.
While she’s satisfied with her work, Willingham knows the final product is probably not exactly what the mystery man looked like. There simply are too many variables to make it a perfect recreation, she said.
“It is created so that someone who sees the reconstruction might realize that he looks like someone they know,” she said. The man’s eyes may be a different color or the shape of his eyes or mouth might be different.
“They are artistic representations based on the best available scientific information,” she said.
Hoffman said detectives continue to gather information about the case.
“The response from the community has been positive,” he said. “I believe people appreciate the lengths that we take to solve our cases, especially in this instance.
“We hope that with continued publicity that somebody, somewhere will recognize this person and help us close the case.”
Brown said he’s hopeful someone will see the photographs of Willingham’s work and come forward with information that will allow them to close this cold case.
“The only thing we can say is that this is someone’s loved one,” he said. “We don’t want to lose sight of that. Someone knows who this person is and is missing him.
“We just have to find the family.”