13 Unsolved: Dead body on the beach

GALVESTON, Texas (KTRK) — As a body washed ashore on the west end of Galveston Island, police released a sketch asking: Do you know this man? That was two years ago. Today, his face is still a mystery. But now forensic genealogists say: they will identify him.

The emergency calls came in mid-afternoon on Mother’s Day 2020.

“Uh, yeah,” the calling man stammered. “I want to report a body at Kahala Beach in Galveston, Texas.”

“Do we know if it’s male or female?” a dispatcher asked a second caller.

“I don’t know,” replied the woman, who said she was calling from her beach house. “I really didn’t want to look and now people are coming and taking pictures.”

The man had no ID with him. He wore black generic swimming trunks and black Calvin Klein briefs underneath. Galveston Police Officer Dannie Simpson shared photos of the crime scene, previously unseen by the public, with the Unsolved team.

But perhaps the most revealing detail of all were the size 11 Under Armor men’s slides strapped to the man’s hands.

“He was swimming and may have tried using these as a flotation device,” Simpson said.

The autopsy later revealed that the man had indeed drowned. He was 5’5″ tall, probably in his 20s, but who was he?

The current that day may have brought him in from the direction of the Bolivar Peninsula, Simpson says, with the US Coast Guard suggesting it.

Investigators were waiting for a call from someone who might be looking for this man. But no such call came. Months passed, then two years. The case went cold. Then the phone finally rang.

“(I thought) that might help me solve this case,” Simpson said.

It was a scientist from Othram, the private genetic testing lab in The Woodlands, who said they could do a DNA profile for this John Doe — and pretty quickly. Once profiled, forensic genealogists began tracking down his family.

Simpson thought it was worth a try.

Othram published the case on his crowdfunding website: DNAsolves.com. They would need $5,000 to run the tests. Over the past year people from all over the country have donated. Now the case has been funded.

“I know for a fact that within a few weeks we will have a profile of this man’s DNA,” says Kristen Mittelman of Othram.

Othram cannot say how long it would take those genealogists to find John Doe’s family.

“He’ll be identified and we’ll find out what’s going on,” Mittelman says. “I can’t tell you how many cases we’ve solved that the Jane and John Doe case turned into an investigation that resulted in someone’s arrest and conviction.”

Simpson hopes a grieving family will have answers by next Mother’s Day: “Somewhere, a mother is looking for a son and we want to — to at least give her closure.”

Follow Courtney Fischer on Facebook to learn more about the Unsolved series. Twitter and Instagram.

Share the story of your loved one with ABC13’s Courtney Fischer here.

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Dais Johnston

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