Latest DDP Case Illustrates Value of Citizen Genealogists

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 Latest DDP Case Illustrates Value of Citizen Genealogists

On the morning of August 11, 2003, a woman bicycling through Riverfront Park in Kingsport, Tennessee called 911 to report a suspicious object in the Holston River. The object, which turned out to be a body in an advanced state of decomposition, was found about 20 yards offshore along the 1800 block of Netherland Inn Road. Local forensic teams determined the white male had been in the river for 7 to 10 days, and that drowning was the apparent cause of death. The man, between 40 and 80 years old, had partially graying hair, was 6’, and weighed 180 lbs. A BB&T bank envelope in the deceased pocket containing $267 was the best clue the investigators had, but that was not enough to identify him.

DNA has now confirmed the identity of the remains as those of Jerry David Holbert of Charleston, West Virginia. In their quest to identify the individual the Kingsport Police Department had contacted the DNA Doe Project (DDP) in October 2018 for help.

Numerous labs were involved in an attempt to obtain usable DNA. Sequencing was scheduled to begin this past July when a sharp-eyed citizen spotted the resemblance between a NamUs “Missing Person Report” and the “Unidentified Person” entry for Kingsport John Doe on the same site.

Patty Williams Childress, herself a genealogist, social worker and private investigator, had been researching the cases in DDP’s pipeline when she spotted the similarities in this one.

“When I find a match I can feel it in my bones and the hair stands up on my arms.” Childress immediately contacted DDP. The DDP team built out a family tree for Holbert and forwarded the information about the likely next of kin to Det. Sgt. Taylor of the KPD.

After further investigation, K.P.D. Detectives were able to locate and interview a relative of the missing person from Charleston, WV. This relative provided a familial DNA sample which was then compared to a DNA sample taken from the unidentified human remains found in Kingsport. While DNA analysis existed in 2003, this technology has continued to see significant advancements and improve dramatically throughout the years. The DNA comparison was conclusive, resulting in a positive identification of the remains.

At the time of his unexplained disappearance, Holbert was 64 years of age and reportedly suffered from dementia. He is believed to have left his residence, walking toward the bus station, with plans to visit a relative in Ohio. When he didn’t arrive at his intended destination, he was reported missing. It is unknown how or why Holbert ended up in Kingsport, but it is suspected that he might have mistakenly boarded the wrong bus due to his dementia. The circumstances surrounding how he ultimately ended up in the Holston River remain a mystery, but based upon the investigation and autopsy, foul play is not now, nor was it ever suspected. Holbert’s next of kin have been notified. 

DDP said Childress' work underscores the value of ordinary citizens in searching NamUs, as well as the importance of detailed reports on missing persons being entered and updated in the system.

“The real hats off goes to the families who report the missing person and give details, pictures and most importantly DNA for their loved one,” Childress said.

Always grateful for any credible assistance, DDP wants to congratulate Childress for her excellent detective work. We also want to acknowledge the trust placed in DDP by the Kingsport Police Department, in particular Det. Sgt. Martin Taylor, who after 17 years were determined to give the man a name. We acknowledge the involvement of the following: Bode Technology, Othram, HudsonAlpha Discovery, The University of North Texas Health Science Center, DNASolutions, and NamUs. And, of course, DDP wants to thank their volunteers and generous donors who make the work we do possible.

Republished courtesy of DNA Doe Project. Photo credit: DDP.

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