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Authorities work to ID skeletal remains found near Old Ben No. 9

By Rick Hayes
Contributing Writer
updated: 9/20/2018 7:17 PM

BENTON -- Franklin County officials remain hopeful dental records will help identify the skeletal remains of a middle-aged white male found Aug. 11 at the abandoned Old Ben Coal Co. Mine 9.

Coroner Marty Leffler told members of the Franklin County Board on Monday that local officials are "95 percent sure of who this is."

The badly decomposed body was found by a man who had permission to run his dogs on the old mine property in West Frankfort. Old Ben No. 9 was closed in 1968.

"This is an unusual situation, certainly it is a suspicious death," Franklin County Sheriff Donald Jones said Tuesday, adding he believes the death occurred inside of a year. "Why was he there? Why did he die? I don't believe it was a natural death."

But whether the man died as a result of homicide, suicide, a drug overdose or something else, Jones can't say. Authorities are waiting for the results of tests being done by forensic anthropologists at Southern Illinois University, DNA tests being done in Texas, and even entomologists, who are using insect larvae found on the remains to pinpoint how long the body was there.

"The experts can tell us how long the body decayed before it was found and they can also tell us if there is any evidence of trauma," Jones told the board on Monday. "We have to establish a positive ID, the time of death and manner of death."

They are also prevailing on the U.S. Navy to get the dental records of a veteran, whose remains they believe the body to be. Authorities have contacted the family of that person, and the family has been helping investigators, Jones said.

Leffler, meanwhile, said the U.S. Navy seems to be dragging its feet.

"I call them every other day and they promise us 10 days," Leffler told the board. "They say they have them and they're a team player, and then they don't send them. I told them a team player would have already have them to us."

He said if the records don't arrive this week he is going to start going over people's heads, to "a U.S. Senator or whoever."

Leffler added the extensive nature of the investigation is rare, and will be more expensive than the usual autopsy.

"It's a lengthy process and it's probably going to cost us more than a normal autopsy," he added.

Because of the ongoing investigation, Jones would not detail how authorities have pinpointed the likely identity of the remains. He did say it was not the result of a missing person's report, since one was never filed.

"Our investigators have done a tremendous job," Jones said.