Investigators turn to genealogy testing to ID ‘Ada Bones’

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A facial reconstruction created from bones found in Ada Township in 1997. (Courtesy)

ADA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The mystery of bones found in Ada Township 23 years ago is the first cold case out of Kent County to be submitted for genealogy testing.

The Kent County Sheriff’s Department confirmed it is working with the DNA Doe Project to try to identify the so-called ‘Ada Bones’ discovered off M-21 in July 1997. Though investigators have not said how the victim died, the case is being treated as a homicide.

A crew clearing trash at Ada roadside park discovered the badly decomposed remains of a woman in a wooded area behind some outbuildings. Forensic testing performed at Western Michigan University determined the remains belonged to an African American woman between 20 to 30 years old and standing 5-foot-3 to 5-foot-7. A dark blue leg warmer was found near the remains.

Investigators determined she died sometime between March and August of 1996.

Dental records did not turn up a match for any missing person.

In 2009, police revealed a facial reconstruction based on the woman’s skull. They hoped making it public would bring in new tips on the case. Still, no name.

Now, detectives are hoping genetic genealogy testing will finally provide answers. Sheriff Michelle Lajoye-Young told News 8 the testing was the logical next step. 

“Despite these skeletal remains being found almost 23 years ago, we remain committed to determining the identity of this individual,” she said. “Over the years we have worked extensively to that end, which has included the creation a three dimensional clay model based off of the victim’s skull in 2009. As genetic genealogy has had several notable success stories over the past few years, it made complete sense for us to submit this woman’s remains to the DNA Doe project in the hopes of bringing closure to her family, and also to open a new chapter in this important investigation.”  

In November of last year, Michigan State Police used this same genetic testing to identify remains of a woman found in Covert Township in 1988. DNA testing identified her as Marcia Bateman from Oklahoma City. The investigation into her death remains open.

Separately, they hope DNA testing will ID the man found along I-196 in Covert Township in 1979.

Authorities in Berrien County are also partnering with the DNA Doe Project to identify remains of a woman found in New Buffalo in August 1992.

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