Secrets of the dead: Charlotte Co. cold case detectives work to identify remains found in 1994

Uncovering the secrets of the dead.

A disturbing find in the woods of Charlotte County could link a suspected serial killer to another murder.

But cold case detectives are first trying to figure out who the victim is.

1994: In the woods behind a Charlotte County intersection, detectives find the remains of a man, mostly bones.

They have no clue as to who it is or what happened until they stumble on an unlikely coincidence.

“A couple years later when we started finding other bodies that were attributed to, at least one was attributed to Daniel Conahan, we were curious because it was the same general area that we had found two of our murder victims,” said Mike Gandy with the Charlotte County Cold Case Unit.

Curious because suspected killer Daniel Conahan is on death row for the gruesome murder of Richard Allen Montgomery, whose mutilated body was found just a few miles away from John Doe.

Suspected serial killer Daniel Conahan (WINK News)

The Charlotte County Cold Case Unit is determined to find out who John Doe was and whether his death could be linked to the killer.

“A team went back and found what they believed to be rope marks or some sort of marks on the trees near where this body was found, and that was Daniel Conahan’s MO, was to use bondage and to tie his victims to trees under the ruse of being photographed in the nude for his sexual pleasure. They did find some marks that could have been made by ropes,” said Gandy.

Even though the clues in the woods appear to point to Conahan, detectives first have to identify the remains recovered here all those years ago. They’re hoping new information along with new technology will turn the tide.

“My thought is always fresh eyes can add something,” said FGCU Forensic Anthropologist Heather Walsh.

FGCU Forensic Anthropologist Heather Walsh works to help identify “John Doe.” (WINK News)

Charlotte Cold Case detectives brought John Doe’s remains to Walsh who examined his bones.

She estimates he’s a 25 to 45-year-old White or Hispanic man, between 5’5 to 5’9, between 125 to 175 pounds. He also had healed fractures in his face and what looks like a pin in his left leg from another injury.

Cold Case detectives took her detailed examination and John Doe’s skull to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

There, Expert Forensic Imaging Specialist Paul Moody will create a hi-tech image of his face.

“The old days they would use clay and kind of put clay all over the skull and try and come up with features and a facial reconstruction using that but they found obviously with the new technology   You get a better reconstruction and a better idea of what the individual may have looked like using the new technology,” said Mike Vogel, a detective with the Charlotte County Cold Case Unit.

Markers are used on the skull to help create a hi-tech image, as shown on this skull from another case. (Plam Beach County Sheriff’s Office)

That technology zeros in on specific areas of the skull. Markers serve as a guide to create a face. The better the image, the better the chance someone who sees it will recognize it.

“When we get that we may be able to identify him,” said Gandy. “If we can identify him, we’ll go back and try to associate him with Daniel Conahan, for one person, or anyone else that may have been responsible. If that happens then you know it’s climbing a ladder that may put us closer to being able to solve the case…maybe.”

Moody has been involved in this work for about 16 years. He is one of only about 29 forensic artists in the world.

What we do is review all the paperwork in the case, and everything we can possibly get our hands on, usually crime scene photos,” said Moody. “And, especially if the skull went through a forensic anthropologist, we need that report. So we’ll review all that paperwork first before we even take a look at [the skull.]

Based on the anthropology report, we’ll obtain the tissue depth markers and measurements and attach them to the skull. Once that’s done then we’ll take photographs, we take that into the computer and we use photoshop to actually reconstruct the face. A lot of that work used to be done by pencil and paper, but now it’s pretty much done in the computer in photoshop.

Moody says 3-D imaging is next on the horizon for this kind of technology and the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office is expected to start using that in the coming months.

As soon as that hi-tech image of John Doe is made available, we will make sure you see it! In the meantime, if anyone you know fits the description of the John Doe, Charlotte County Cold Case detectives want to hear from you.

The Cold Case Team detectives are always seeking more information on their cases. If you have any information, please call 941-575-5361 during business hours; after-hours, contact 941-639-2101. They can also be reached by email at [email protected] or through the “Submit a Tip” function on its mobile app.

Writer:Briana Harvath
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