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1980 John Doe case in southeast Missouri solved with DNA testing

A longtime “John Doe” case in Cape Girardeau County in southeast Missouri has been solved thanks to DNA testing.

In 2003, the Southeast Missouri Regional Crime Lab transferred several sets of unidentified human remains to Southeast Missouri State University in the hopes that anthropologists would someday be able to identify them. Two of these cases were previously resolved in 2020 and 2022.

Under the supervision of Dr. Jennifer Bengtson, advanced anthropology students estimated that these remains belonged to a biological male who was at least 50 years old at the time of his death. He stood about 5 feet 7 inches tall and was likely of predominantly European ancestry. All of his teeth had been lost during his life and he had signs of healed facial trauma.

The man’s cause of death could not be determined. No records were initially associated with these remains, but a student intern at the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab eventually located a document indicating that the remains had been in the possession of the Cape Girardeau County Coroner in August of 1980. No other records could be located.

In collaboration with the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff’s Office, Dr. Bengtson and her students submitted skeletal remains to Othram private DNA library  in 2020. Othram used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to develop a comprehensive DNA profile for the unknown man. The matches in the genealogy databases were distant, but Othram’s in-house forensic genetic genealogy team was able to return actionable leads.

Using these investigative leads along with the coroner’s report, SEMO anthropology students searched newspaper archives for any information related to missing persons or skeletal remains that might help shed light on this John Doe’s identity. Over the course of this work, a student located articles from July of 1980 describing skeletal remains that were recovered from a farm near Gordonville, MO, which matched the anthropological profile and the timeline developed for these remains.

Information in these articles also indicated that these remains were identified at the time as likely belonging to an individual whose surname was represented in the genealogy data.

Using this information, Cape Girardeau County Sheriff’s investigators reached out to the closest living relative of that individual to obtain a comparative DNA sample.  Followup DNA testing confirmed that Cape Girardeau County John Doe is, in fact, Louis Charles Borchers of Gordonville, Missouri.

Borchers was last seen alive in February of 1980 when he was almost 60 years old. He had been institutionalized at the Farmington State Mental Hospital, approximately 63 miles away from Gordonville.

Records indicate that he walked away from the hospital and was not heard from again. The wooded area where his skeletonized remains were ultimately discovered was on land that had previously been owned by his family and where he was known to have enjoyed spending time in his younger years. At this time, no foul play is suspected in his death.

This case was funded through private donations to the Southeast Missouri State University Foundation. Special thanks are due to relatives who offered their genomic data and knowledge of family history in support of this identification.

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