FORT MYERS, Fla. - Fort Myers police call it their most challenging case; eight skeletal remains were found buried deep in the woods more than three years ago. Investigators say the men are murder victims. So far only three people have been identified. Now, a new detective is working hard to crack the case.
The largest excavation of human remains in Florida history happened in the brush off Arcadia Street in Fort Myers three years ago. A land surveyor stumbled across the first skull in March 2007. Days later, police unearthed eight remains of men they believe are all homicide victims. There were no I.D.'s or clothes. Police estimated they were killed between 1980 and 2000.
"The file on this case is extremely large," Detective Mali Langton told WINK News. "Right now I'm coming in on my days off to work on the case."
Detected Langton took over the investigation last year after the original detective retired. She says she's investigating as if it's a cold case.
"I'm looking into every single possible thing I can," she said.
That includes following up on hundreds of leads and going through sign-in sheets from area homeless shelters during that time period. Police believe the victims are transients.
"Most of these people were probably not even reported missing. Their families and friends think they may have just drifted. That's the hard part," Langton explained.
A forensic artist used the skulls to sketch what the men might look like and another artist reconstructed their heads out of clay. Police sent DNA from the bones to a national database. Those combined efforts helped identify three men: Jonathan Tihay, Eric Kohler and John Blevins.
Blevins' mother Hilinda Courter said John was visiting Fort Myers in the mid '90's when he vanished.
"He said I'm going our for a while. I'll be back... and never showed back," Courter recalled.
On a hunch she gave DNA to investigators and her worst nightmare came true.
"It said the DNA was that of my son. It just about tore my heart out," she said. "Had I not brought him here maybe things wouldn't have happened the way they did. Nobody knows but I sometimes feel it's my fault."
Blevins had no connections with the other two men identified. The lack of common threads makes the mystery harder to solve.
Theories have surfaced that this could be the work of serial killer Daniel Conahan, on death row for a murder he committed in Charlotte County in the '90's. While the Fort Myers Police tell us they have yet to talk to Conahan or his lawyers, they aren't ruling out doing so in the future.
We tried to speak with Conahan, but in a letter, he refused our request for an interview.
Now, Langton spends her time determined to unravel the secrets of this case.
"I pray one day I get that phone call that we at least identify the next one," she said.
There are still five skeletal remains that need to be identified. If you haven't heard from a loved one for more than ten years, the Fort Myers Police Department suggests that you contact them to submit DNA.