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Posted On: 2/3/2017

Medical Examiner's Office Positively Identifies Previously Unidentified Man Who Died Nearly Four Decades Ago




Contacts: Christopher Harris, (216) 443-7157


Collaborative investigation helps provide closure to unidentified case from 1980

CLEVELAND – Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas P. Gilson, in collaboration with the Berea Police Department, Grand Haven Department of Public Safety (MI) and Sault Tribe Police Department, announced the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office (CCMEO) has positively identified a previously unidentified man killed by a train in 1980.

“It is gratifying to be able to provide closure to any family who loses a loved one. This particular case is especially so because of the long time involved before an identification was made,” said Dr. Gilson. “I am indebted to the wonderful staff in the county DNA and fingerprint laboratories, as well as our partners in law enforcement. Families never forget their loss and it is our mission to aid them in difficult times.”

On November 14, 1980, a pedestrian was struck and killed by a train along the railroad tracks near Front Street in Berea, OH. Attempts to identify the victim, believed to be of Asian or American Indian descent in his late 20s, were made through the local media, fingerprints and all the means available during that time period. After all efforts had been exhausted, the unidentified man was buried in Memorial Park (Potter’s Field) in Cleveland, OH.

The Medical Examiner’s DNA Parentage & Identification Department routinely follows up on old cases, with the hope they may discover new information that can be used with today’s state-of-the-art forensic technology. Additionally, the office will enter unidentified persons into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) – a publicly accessible national database, designed for law enforcement, medical examiners, coroners, and families of missing persons to contribute information to help solve missing/unidentified cases.

Through investigative efforts with the Berea Police Department, Berea PD provided a case file to CCMEO that included the original post-mortem fingerprint card from 1980. As a result, the county’s fingerprint lab entered the fingerprints into the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) – providing access to local, state, and federal fingerprint databases. Furthermore, fingerprint examiners were able to compare the post-mortem prints to prints in the Next Generation Identification (NGI) federal database for a positive match to James Francis Williams of Grand Haven, Michigan.

With assistance from the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety, Sault Tribe Police Department, Luce County Clerk, and NamUs, we were able to track down his vital statistics and make proper next of kin notification.

“This case highlights the importance of collaboration and communication between different units of the laboratory, as well as different local, state and federal agencies,” said Dr. Harmeet Kaur, CCMEO Parentage & Identification Director and Quality Manager. “This identification would not have been possible without the collaborative efforts of the Parentage & Identification, Fingerprints and Investigation units of the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office, and the help and information provided by Berea Police Department, Grand Haven Department of Public Safety, Sault Tribe Police Department, Luce County Clerk, and NamUs.”