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Sketches helping to solve Valley cold cases

“If you solve a really hard one...it means you’re not just fooling yourself when you’re doing this.”
Posted: 9:50 PM, Oct 15, 2021
Updated: 2021-10-17 20:01:08-04
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PHOENIX — About 45 miles outside of Phoenix, a search that was underway for missing field geologist Daniel Robinson turned up human remains of another individual — but whose remains are these?

Robinson, 24, who went missing in June after leaving a remote field location, has not been seen since.

In early August, Robinson’s father and search crews were searching the desert near the area where the young man went missing. However, while searching for Robinson crews found a part of a skull near the area of Cactus Road and Sun Valley Parkway.

WHO IS HE?

With only a cranium, an anthropologist who works with the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office is able to determine demographics including gender, ethnicity, and age range.

Investigators with the ME’s office tell ABC15 that an anthropologist determined that the remains were a man, that he was likely dead for one to five years, and in the age range of 20 to 60 years.

HOPING TO IDENTIFY

Christen Eggers, with the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office receives around 1,000 unidentified persons cases each year — with approximately one out of ten turning into a cold case.

Eggers tells ABC15 that the office for unidentified persons has a lead into a family who may be related to the partial cranium that was found in Buckeye.

“This is an unidentified that we have here, and it is likely going to be a missing person,” said Eggers.

A TIP TO SOLVE

Helping solve unidentified and missing persons cases with a tip of a pencil is Stephen Missal, a forensic artist, who works with the ME’s office to illustrate what a person likely looks like. After demographics are determined by the anthropologist, Missal will work to bring a visual representation to hopefully identify a person.

Sketch progression

Missal, who is working for the 13th year with the ME’s office, has helped sketch dozens of unidentified persons — many of whom are featured on the county’s Unidentified Persons Bureau.

The site features a warning that the content may not be suitable for everyone.

When you click into the site, you can search as far back as 1970 and by jurisdiction across the Valley, and parts of the state.

The cases will be listed with a case number based on the year a person was found, if the case is active or solved, and if there are any accompanying photos.

Most of those photos feature Missal’s work with his signature — other photos depict items found on a person, sometimes including their personal belongings.

Missal, who was a college professor for art, later became a forensic artist with his unique set of skills. Oftentimes, Missal will have to take a damaged or incomplete skull to help sculpt what is missing, he will also place tissue depth markers on different facial bones to produce a reasonable likeness to the person.

Some of the features are hard to know — like a person’s hair.

Missal sat down with ABC15 about the sketch of the unidentified man who was found in the desert in Buckeye. He said to focus on the facial features.

"The shape of the face, and the size of the eyes, the fact that the nose maybe got broken, but if not, it’s a little crooked,” Missal said.

Eggers, with the ME’s office, said that craniums are some of the hardest cases to piece together because of what could be missing.

Missal tells ABC15 he thinks about the cases he works on, and the hope is for a positive ID on them.

“If you solve a really hard one, I suppose a bit of ego in it, but at the same time, it means you’re not just fooling yourself when you’re doing this, it means you’re actually doing something that works.”

UNIDENTIFIED PERSONS

There are around 225-250 cold cases with Maricopa County's Unidentified Persons bureau. Eggers tells ABC15 that nearly half of them are people found in the desert.

To view unidentified persons, you can click here. If you have any information or recognize these unidentified persons contact the ME's office at 602-506-1138.

POSITIVE ID’S

These are some of the sketches that have led the ME’s office to a positive identification

Laura Jean Jordan- After exhausting all other leads, police contacted the DNA Doe Project six months ago hoping to identify the woman using investigative genetic genealogy. The method led to detectives asking the FBI for a partial fingerprint comparison, which led to the identification of Laura Jean Jordan.

Case number 82-1246- The family of the individual had seen the possible name and sketch. A DNA sample was taken from the family, which confirmed the identification in 2017.

Case number 21-07561- The sketch was seen by the family online and the individual was visibly identifiable. Officials compared exam photographs and surgical history to confirm identity in 2021.

Case number 20-8700- Phoenix police received a tip of a possible name for the individual after seeing the sketch on social media. Officials requested FBI to confirm using fingerprint information and was identified in 2020.

Case number 13-5530- A social worker called, reporting their client missing. A possible sketch match was sent to the social worker, who confirmed it was their client with a photograph of the individual. Utilizing clearance fingerprints provided from MCSO compared to the postmortem prints for identification in 2013.

Case number 10-3664- Family of the individual had seen the sketch, as well as separate renderings of tattoos, where the individual's identity was later verified in 2017.