COOS COUNTY — The cold case of Bandon’s John Doe has garnered international curiosity.
Details of the case are so strange, the FBI, military investigators and agencies from across the pond have tried to find answers, but no one has been able to solve it.
It began on the evening of Aug. 26, 1972, when a teen stumbled across a skeleton while he was peeling chittum bark in the woods behind Ray’s Food Store in Bandon.
The 911 call came in that night around 8:25 p.m. to the Bandon Police, which was smaller than it is today according to Capt. Kelley Andrews with the Coos County Sheriff’s Office.
Because the Major Crime Team hadn’t been established yet, the Bandon Police Department called in CCSO to assist. When the two detectives arrived on scene, which was roughly 1,000 feet behind Ray’s Food Store, they found a skeleton pulled apart by rats and other animals over time.
“This person had been dead three to five years already,” Andrews said.
When law enforcement ran metal detectors over the scene, they discovered a car key with the emblem “R.” They collected what remains they could, including what Andrews said is the most important piece of evidence.
The skull had a small piece of metal in it next to a hole. In the autopsy, the metal was determined to be a .22 caliber bullet that didn’t penetrate the bone. The hole next to it was the same size.
“He was shot twice in the head,” Andrews said. “They didn’t recover a gun at the scene, which means it wasn’t a suicide because if it was there would have been a gun right there.”
The remains were then turned over to the Oregon State Police Crime Lab for examination. The skull also held a full set of dentures, which held the strangest piece to the case.
“Both dentures, where you put the glue, had a number,” Andrews said. “The numbers are like a tattoo. They are on a strip of some sort, but it won’t come off.”
Andrews suggested the obvious: “That is a clue that we could easily track down, right? They couldn’t do that back then.”
Then the unidentified white male, estimated to be between 60 and 70 years old and stood at 5-foot, 7-inches, became a cold case.
The case didn’t reemerge until 2001, when Andrews was promoted to detective. While he was mostly working child abuse investigations and was part of the Major Crime Team, he hadn’t worked any homicides yet.
“At the time, we had a file cabinet with a drawer full of old, deceased person cases,” Andrews remembered. “In the '50s, '60s and '70s deaths were investigated much differently than now. They would send deputies out still, but kept the files on a card and that was it. This cabinet is where we kept some of them and one day I started flipping through it, nostalgic of the place, and came across this weird report from Aug. 26, 1972.”
When Andrews dusted it off and reopened it, he found that the strangeness of the cold case was compounded by how investigations were run in the '70s. Of course, he tried to track down answers to the obvious questions, starting with who went missing in the county in the time frame John Doe died.
“I don’t know if anyone went missing around here then, because things were done differently,” he said. “If someone goes missing now, the name goes into the database within 12 hours.”
When detectives went back to the scene and did follow up investigations in the '70s, reports were written but are gone now.
“I have one report from them, the initial six-page report, but that’s it because there was no records management system back then,” he explained. “Those records are lost. Bandon Police had their reports still, which I have copies of and have added to the case file, but there was no tracking like there is now. It’s easier now to work more recent cold cases then ones that go this far back.”
Witnesses from when the body was first found told detectives they remembered seeing a vehicle three to five years earlier in the area.
“He had a key with him, so where was his car?” Andrews said. “Was it towed? Where did it go? There was no interconnectivity like there is now.”
So he began reaching out to agencies for help, starting with the American Dental Association. When he told them about the numbers on the dentures, the association sent it out to its members.
“No one knows what those numbers are,” he said. “I spoke with local denture makers and other professionals, but no one knows what those numbers mean. We have no clue what they are.”
But there are theories. Some have wondered if the first four numbers are the last four digits of a Social Security Number, followed by the year '66.
“If that’s the case, no one can tell me who used to do this on dentures,” Andrews said.
He didn’t stop at the American Dental Association, but reached out to the FBI, OSP Crime Lab, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the National Crime Faculty in Europe that investigates serial murders.
When Andrews asked the National Crime Faculty for help, he also had them reach out to the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force because the original pathology had a note to talk with the RAF.
“But the RAF had no clue,” Andrews said.
There was the idea that the John Doe might be military, so Andrews reached out to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency that does digs in Korea and Vietnam for lost soldiers. He asked them if they have seen numbers like these in dentures before.
No, they hadn’t.
“There is another theory that has no basis that I can tell, but a police officer from the state of Washington said that Merchant Marines did this at a public service hospital in Seattle, which burned down with all of its records,” Andrews said. “I don’t put much water in that theory because if that was true, someone would have come across it somewhere and no one has.”
He put it through the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, which tracks homicides to check for serial killers. There were no matches.
“I worked with the FBI to get a list of who went missing that met this John Does’ criteria,” Andrews said. “That list included Jimmy Hoffa, but it wasn’t him either.”
He took it to the U.S. Army Dental Corps and recently took part of the skull for mitochondrial DNA, which is now in the database. It will get a hit if ever John Doe’s grandchildren get arrested and their DNA goes into the system.
The case is so curious, NCIS assigned an investigator to the case. They also came up with nothing.
Finally, the Doe Network got involved and did a Claymation of what John Doe might have looked like. Today, forensic anthropologists following the case say the Claymation is not what he would have looked like.
However, the Doe Network put Andrews on a lead that led him to a missing person’s case in Gooding County, Idaho. The man’s name was Fred Miller.
But DNA testing turned down that lead as well.
“I got those results on Aug. 18, of 2015,” Andrews said. “This cold case has been worked on throughout the past two decades. We just keep picking it up and different people keep picking it up, bringing new ideas to it. The next person to look at this will call and ask if I remember it. My hope is to solve this and begin the healing process for whoever this gentleman’s family is. ‘Closure’ is an odd word, but it begins that healing process.”
If you have information about Bandon’s John Doe, call CCSO at 541-396-7800.