Headless body exhumed in push to solve '87 cold case

It was a spring morning in 1987 when Clifford Watt, hunting squirrels in a wooded area west of St. Louis, Mo., came upon a grisly discovery -- the headless and handless body of a man lying face down in brush.

The body was never identified and the man's killer never caught, but, nearly 30 years later, investigators are exhuming the remains in the hopes new DNA technology and a pair of tantalizing clues can provide a break in the ice cold case. The victim wore a T-shirt from that year's Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., with the Michigan Wolverines "Big Ten Champions" printed across the front, and had a 1983 gold-colored token from the Kansas City International Airport in his pocket.

Without the victim's head and hands, there was little Missouri investigators could do in May of 1987 to identify John Doe, who police say had an irregular scar on his abdomen, possibly from an old gunshot wound, and who was well-dressed -- clad in Oscar de la Renta jeans and new white Nike high-top tennis shoes.

Investigators are certain the man, likely 35 to 45 years old, was killed elsewhere and his body dumped about 40 feet off of Highway W. They also believe the man was not from Warren County, which covers 438 square miles on the western edge of the St. Louis metropolitan area and was much more rural in 1987.

"This is a tight-knit community and we don't think this guy was local," said Lt. Matthew Schmutz of the Warren County Sheriff's Department, who in recent days has been tediously sorting through boxes of old police notes scribbled on looseleaf paper.

Schmutz said he hopes an exhumation of the bones will lead to a familial DNA match within two major databases used by law enforcement -- assuming a close relative, like a parent or sibling, submitted DNA in search for the victim.

"Somebody, somewhere is missing this guy," Schmutz told FoxNews.com.

"I'm very optimistic this can be solved," he said, "And something about that shirt and that coin has to jog someone's memory. Those items are unique."

Schmutz noted the man -- 5 feet, 8 inches, to 5 feet, 10 inches tall, and weighing approximately 235 pounds -- had pale white skin and was lying in the woods for at least four to five days before they were found. He had 82 cents in his pocket and had on a brown leather belt.

The medical examiner detected traces of cocaine and alcohol in the victim's system -- clues Schmutz said led investigators to suspect a drug trafficking crime or a Mafia hit.

"There was some mob activity in the Kansas City area connected with cocaine back in 1987," Schmutz said.

Police will exhume the remains in March and then compare DNA extracted from the bones to DNA within NAMUS and NCIC, two major national databases.

While Schmutz is hopeful he'll get a positive "hit," he also acknowledged the difficulty at putting faces on unknown cold case victims.

Schmutz cited a June 2004 murder in which a young woman's body was found dismembered at a rest area along Interstate 70 in Missouri. Though the woman's DNA was entered into databases, no match to a family member or suspect has ever been made.

"She had a cesarean section scar so we know she has a child out there," he said.

"We do have suspect DNA but no matches in the database -- yet," Schmutz said. "It's just a matter of time before this person gets arrested for something that requires a DNA submission."

As for the case of John Doe, Schmutz said a familial DNA link could "change this investigation overnight."

"We're not going to give up until we have answers," he said.

Anyone with potential information on the victim is urged to contact the Warren County Sheriff's Office at 636-456-4332.

READ MORE: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/02/04/up-from-grave-headless-body-exhumed-in-push-to-solve-87-cold-case/