Sketch of 1987 John Doe released as genealogists look for name

Southwest Michigan

A artist’s rendering of an unidentified man whose body was found in Van Buren County’s Keeler Township in December 1987. (Courtesy DNA Doe Project).

KEELER TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The group combing through genealogy databases seeking to identify a young man whose body was found in rural Van Buren County decades ago has released a sketch of him.

The skeletal remains were discovered on Dec. 24, 1987 in some woods off of Territorial Road near 62nd Street in Keeler Township, west of Decatur. The body had been there for months, authorities believe. Nearly 33 years later, authorities still don’t know his name.

Now, Michigan State Police and the DNA Doe Project, a nonprofit staffed by volunteers, hope public DNA websites will reveal who he is. While the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed their research, the genealogists are still working to find people related to the John Doe.

The sketch is the first time an image of him has been released.

He is believed to have been between the ages of 15 and 22 at the time of his death. He stood around 5-foot-9 and had black hair. He was wearing a white nylon ski jacket with a blue strip and removable sleeves, jeans, a gray, plaid, long-sleeved shirt, a Busch Gardens T-shirt with two Clydesdales on the back and size 10 black ankle boots with zippers.

Anyone with information about who he may be or how he ended up in the woods is asked to call MSP Detective Sgt. Scott Ernstes at 269.657.5551.

The 1987 case is among several that MSP has turned to the DNA Doe Project to shed light on. Genealogy matches last year led to the identification of Marcia Bateman, whose body was found off I-196 in Van Buren County in 1988. Research is still underway to put a name to the remains of a man found along I-196 south of South Haven in 1979, a woman found in New Buffalo in 1992 and a woman discovered in an Ada-area park in 1997, among others.

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