Tampa Bay Cold Case Project - Success Stories

    Identified: Martha “Jane” Wever

    Martha “Jane” Wever In April of 2013, Detective Darren Norris from the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office contacted the University of South Florida Forensic Anthropology Laboratory regarding the remains of an unidentified individual in a wooded area near a hiking trail off I-75. A biological profile was created based on the skeletal remains, as well as the collection of fingerprints, isotope analyses, and the creation of a facial composite.

    The facial composite was created based on the biological of the skull, which was distributed nationally by the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office. Investigators working a missing persons case in Kentucky contacted Det. Norris with a possible match. Martha “Jane” Wever was quickly identified. The facial composite created by USF is below, alongside a photo of Martha “Jane” Wever.

    For the USF news story, visit: http://news.usf.edu/article/templates/?a=5990&z=215
    Identified: Gregory Gecko
Gregory Gecko
    In 2010, as part of the Tampa Bay Cold Case Project, Bill Pellen and Chuck Brining the District 6 Medical Examiner’s Office, along with Dr. Erin Kimmerle and numerous graduate students from the USF Forensic Anthropology Laboratory, teamed up to excavate the remains of “John” and “Jane Doe” graves throughout Pinellas and Pasco Counties.
    An unidentified male was found floating in the Gulf of Mexico off Clearwater Beach on August 8, 1987.  The unidentified remains were buried in Royal Palm Cemetery North, St. Petersburg on September 25, 1987.  There were no biological samples retained from the decedent in 1987.  On April 22, 2010, the District Six Medical Examiner’s Office in conjunction with the University of South Florida Forensic Anthropology Laboratory exhumed the unidentified decedent.  Appropriate biological samples were obtained and submitted to the University of North Texas (UNT) for submission into the Missing & Unidentified Persons index of CODIS.  On August 22, 2011, we received notification from UNT that the DNA profile from the unidentified decedent from 1987 matched the DNA profile of Gregory Greco who was reported missing from Port Richey, Florida, in June of 1987. 
    Detective Boyer with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office had been working Cold Missing Person’s Cases and saw the profile of the Unidentified decedent from 1987 on NamUs and thought there to be significant similarities to Gregory Greco, missing from Port Richey in June of the same year.  Detective Boyer made contact with our office to inquire further about the unidentified decedent from 1987.  He was informed that we had recently exhumed the decedent in order to obtain biological specimens to have a DNA profile generated and entered into the Missing & Unidentified DNA database of CODIS.  Detective Boyer made contact with the brother and father of Mr. Greco to obtain buccal swabs to be entered into the same database for comparison.  As previously stated, the DNA analysis was performed and on August 22nd we were informed of the match.
    Media article:
    Todd Leskanic. “Suicide victim ID’d more than 20 years after body found.” Tampa Bay Online. [Tampa, Florida] September 9, 2011.
    Identified: Donald Cavender
Donald Cavender
    Unidentified skeletal remains were discovered by a hunter in a wooded area near Zephyrhills, FL on January 23, 2010.  Detectives from the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office worked with the District 6 Medical Examiner’s Office and the USF Forensic Anthropology Laboratory to excavate the remains and provide an analysis for identification. Biological samples from the unidentified decedent were submitted to Bode Laboratory for DNA analysis and submission into the Missing & Unidentified Persons index of CODIS.  On August 15, 2011, we received notification that the DNA sample from our unidentified decedent matched a profile of missing person Donald Cavender who was last seen alive on June 15, 2000, in Brandon, FL. 
    Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has been revisiting their Cold Missing Person’s Cases, and re-contacting family members of persons still missing to have them submit DNA samples to be entered into the Missing & Unidentified Person’s index of CODIS, in the event their missing relative is found as an unidentified decedent.  The brothers of missing person Donald Cavender provided their DNA samples.  Once the DNA analysis was performed on the unidentified decedent by Bode Laboratory and results submitted to the University of North Texas for entry into the missing & unidentified database, a match was made to the DNA provided by the brothers of Donald Cavender.
    Media articles:
    “Remains found in Pasco forest identified as man missing since 2000.” Bay News 9. [Tampa, Florida] August 26, 2011.
    Sean O’Reilley. “Human Remains found in the Hillsborough Forest in 2010 identified using DNA evidence.” ABC Action News. [Tampa, Florida] August 26, 2011.

    Identified: Peggy Houser
Peggy Houser
    Peggy Houser was only 18-years-old when she was last seen by friends leaving a local bar near Tampa, Florida, one June evening in 1981. Peggy, the youngest of five, was born in Largo, Florida, but had spent most of her childhood in Piqua, Ohio. In her teen years, Peggy had met a rough crowd and her mother had suggested she go to Florida to live with her father. Peggy had been known to leave home from time to time, but always remained in contact with her family. After that summer evening, Peggy's mother received a phone call from her.  All she asked was if she could come home.  Her mother immediately said yes, but the call was abruptly cut. Peggy's mother always assumed she had returned to Piqua, and so when she did not hear back from her daughter she filed a missing persons report with the local police department.  For the next three decades, Peggy's siblings, parents, and local officers searched for her, always believing she had returned to the Midwest.  Peggy’s mother even had a recording on her answering machine informing operators that she would accept charges from Peggy, and asking Peggy to leave her a message.  
    In May 2011, NCMEC's Forensic Services Unit within the Missing Children Division registered an unidentified case concerning the remains of a female victim based on the fact that the remains could belong to a missing child.  The victim had been found near Tampa in Hillsborough County in January 1982, an apparent victim of a homicide. Medical examiners were uncertain of the victim's age but estimated she could be from 14 to 20-years-old. Upon receiving the unidentified case, NCMEC Case Manager Pam Reed began looking at possible matches.  CM Reed was familiar with Peggy's case from the Internet and sites dedicated to missing person cases, such as the Doe Network and The Charley Project.  CM Reed suspected that the remains found in January 1982 in Hillsborough County could be those of Peggy, and reached out to Dr. E. Kimmerle, Assistant Professor of Anthropology for the University of South Florida.  NCMEC was familiar with Dr. Kimmerle from her previous work with the Center and her deployments with Project Alert, in which she often provided guidance in the areas relating to forensic anthropology.  Dr. Kimmerle had also worked closely with the local Medical Examiner’s Office in Florida as a consultant for both the Tampa Police Department and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.         
    Although previous attempts at comparison by medical examiners had excluded a match between the unidentified remains and Peggy’s case based on odontologists reports, Dr. Kimmerle re-examined the case.  On May 15, 2011, Dr. Kimmerle found strong similarities to indicate that the unidentified remains could be those of Peggy, noting that the mixed dentition may have been the issue in failing to recognize the similarities. Dr. Kimmerle notified the lead agency for the unidentified case, who in turn dispatched a detective to obtain a DNA sample from Peggy’s brother, who lived in the area.  The reference sample was immediately sent to the FBI lab with a request for a one on one comparison with the unidentified case as it was the FBI lab that developed the genetic profile on the skeletal remains. On November 15, Peggy and the unidentified homicide victim were one and the same based on DNA comparison.  Law enforcement notified the family the following day, and after being missing for 30-years Peggy was finally returned to her family. 
    Identified: David Brennesholtz
David Brennesholtz
    One morning in March 2008, an unidentified deceased man was found lying against a wall on Cleveland Street in downtown Clearwater. The District 6 Medical Examiner’s Office, covering Pinellas and Pasco Counties in Florida, ran fingerprints but continued to come up with nothing during the search for matching missing persons. Soon after, the man was buried in an unmarked grave at the Sunnyside Cemetery in St. Petersburg, Florida and his information was posted on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, with the hope that someone looking for him will see his profile.
    In Long Island, New York, a woman named Sue D’Agostino continued to worry about her brother, David, who developed Schizophrenia at the age of 20 and would disappear for weeks at a time. Toward the end of 2008, her brother’s disability checks began arriving at her house. She never heard from her brother and continued to worry and wonder where he was. She learned about NamUs and began to comb through the database of unidentified white men about the same age as her brother, with gray hair and a mustache. One day she saw an autopsy photo that she knew had to be her brother, and, after submitting her DNA, it was confirmed that she had found her brother, 1,300 miles away in St. Petersburg, Florida.
    Media articles:
    "National database in Largo cracks unsolved mysteries at a rate like never before."
    ABC Action News. [Largo, FL] November 25, 2011.