Cold Case Unit identifies skeleton


Published: Wednesday, August 1, 2007 at 11:38 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Thanks to DNA evidence, the Alachua County Sheriff's Office's new Cold Case Unit has come to one conclusion in a more than 40-year-old case: A skeleton discovered near Cross Creek in the mid-1960s was that of a man whose car was found nearby months before.

The remains discovered May 16, 1966, belong to James Harold Thomas, 24, the unit learned using DNA obtained from the man's sister.

Thomas' Ford Falcon with a Texas license plate had been found abandoned in this area a few months before the skeleton was located, but until investigators with the Cold Case Unit began further scrutinizing the case, it was not clear whether the skeleton was Thomas'.

Thomas had been listed as an Army deserter. But, when officers first tried to verify if the body belonged to Thomas, dental records obtained from the U.S. Army didn't match. Since then, the skeleton and the investigation had remained untouched.

After the formation of the Cold Case Unit in February, investigators began reviewing unsolved investigations - including that of Thomas' abandoned Ford Falcon. About three months ago, the remains found near where the Ford had been abandoned were transferred to the C.A. Pound Human Identification Lab at the University of Florida for further analysis.

DNA testing allowed the lab to identify the skeleton as Thomas' using DNA obtained from Thomas' sister, who the Cold Case Unit had located out-of-state.

Meantime, the circumstances of Thomas' death remain under investigation. The man had suffered trauma to the back of the head.

A .22-caliber gun also was located next to the remains, but no metal fragments were in the skull.

The wound might have been self-inflicted, but investigators still aren't sure what happened to Thomas, according to the Sheriff's Office.

The Ford Falcon, meanwhile, was probably either given back to the bank who held the loan for it at the time, or might have been sold at an abandoned property auction, said Sgt. Keith Faulk at the Sheriff's Office. He said that since investigators first believed the death to be accidental when it was discovered in 1966, they would not have held the vehicle as evidence.

Anyone with information about this or other unsolved Alachua County cases is asked to call (352) 955-1818 or Crime Stoppers at (352) 372-7867. For more information about unsolved county crimes, go to http://www.alachuasheriff.org/detective/index.htm#cold%20cases.

<i>Lise Fisher can be reached at 352-374-5092 or fisherl@gvillesun.com.</i>

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