RENSSELAER — A Massachusetts forensic genetic genealogy company has begun working to identify a Jasper County male alleged to have been a victim of a serial killer in the early 1980s.
Redgrave Research Forensic Services, based in Orange, Mass., and the Trans Doe Task Force will be teaming up with the Jasper County Coroner’s Office to help identity a person known only as “Jasper County John Doe,” who was allegedly killed by the late serial killer Larry Eyler, also known as the “Highway Killer.”
The unidentified John Doe was discovered Oct. 15, 1983, near Rensselaer. The deceased, according to Redgrave, was estimated to be a white male between 18 to 26 years old, with shoulder-length reddish-brown hair. His height was between 5-feet, 6 inches to 5 feet, 8 inches tall and the victim had previously suffered a fracture to his left femur.
Several articles of clothing were found with the remains, including a gray hooded sweatshirt, a pair of Levi jeans, a size 28 brown belt, gray/burgundy socks and size 11½ suede athletic shoes.
Police also found a Zippo lighter with the name “Arlene” engraved onto it.
Officials determined the man was a victim of a homicide and had been deceased for about one to two years before his remains were discovered. Redgrave officials said no missing person reports in the area fit the man’s description, nor did anyone claim to know the identity of John Doe.
Redgrave Research works with the Trans Doe Task Force, which locates and researches cases of LGBTQ+ missing and murdered people, focusing on unidentified individuals who may have been transgender.
“Transgender and gender-variant people are disproportionately targeted in violent crimes and have a higher suicide rate,” the task force states on its website, transdoetaskforce.org. “They are more likely to be estranged from their families or end up vulnerable without adequate support. There are likely to be hundreds of transgender ‘does’ filed in cold case files as either “Jane” or “John,” which may or may not match the gender they lived under or the descriptions anyone looking for them may have given. We will seek out and find these individuals who have slipped through the cracks so that they can have a chance of being identified using the latest advances in forensic science and technology.”
Bryan Worters, an investigator with Redgrave, said Jasper County Coroner Andrew Boersma and his wife, Diane Boersma, have been working to identify John Doe ever since they inherited the case more than a decade ago.
“The utmost priority for the Boersmas is to have this man returned to his family,” he said. “The Redgrave Research team and I intend to aid them in bringing him home to his loved ones.”
Authorities linked the Jasper County remains to a series of murders within the LGBTQ+ community across Indiana and Illinois. Eyler was arrested in connection with these murders and convicted of two counts of homicide. He was sentenced to death by lethal injection but died March 6, 1994, from AIDS-related complications while awaiting execution on death row in Illinois.
Two days after Eyler’s death, his attorney conducted a press conference and disclosed that Eyler had confessed to 19 other killings, including Jasper County’s John Doe.
In April, the Newton County Coroner’s Office identified the third of four young men found on an abandoned farm in rural Lake Village on Oct. 18, 1983. Newton County officials worked with another agency to identify those victims.
Eyler confessed to killing 24 people — five of whom remain without an identity.