Benjaman Kyle – Close Calls, Part I

Photo: Jessica Haye and Clark Hsiao

Hi Colleen:


I read the article about you in the June 2010 issue of More Magazine, and am curious about one thing. Are you the same person who competed on Wheel of Fortune in 1991? If so, I was one of your competitors. Just curious!


Margot Theresa Cox


In fact, I was on Wheel of Fortune in 1991.  (I lost.  I was the third contestant in line, and the other two women, including Margot, mopped up on the puzzles before I could get a letter in edgewise.)


When I wrote her back, identifying myself as her competitor, Margot answered:

When I got your response I had to dig out my copy of the shows. Sure enough, there you were! I was next to you, in the middle. But here’s the truly weird thing – sometime during the past couple of weeks, I was trying to remember where I had heard the phrase “I speak a smattering of other languages.” Well, you are the one who said it. Isn’t that odd? Anyway, I lived in Florissant, MO back in 1991. I have been in Temple, TX since 1993.


I enjoyed reading the article about your work. Some of what you have done is truly amazing. And what a career transformation! Much of what you do is obviously very scientific, but I love it when you can use the internet to find someone. I recently was able to find a long-lost boyfriend I hadn’t heard from in well over 20 years! Not quite the same as your finds, but still so much more than we could have done without the net.



So if Margot can recognize me as her competitor on Wheel of Fortune nearly 20 years ago, why can’t anyone identify Benjaman Kyle?


The story of the amnesiac who goes by the name Benjaman Kyle is familiar to many people because of the media attention it has been given.  Thanks largely to my efforts, he has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered, in the UK Guardian, AOL News, the Boulder Daily Camera, the Denver Post, and many other newspapers across the country.  In October 2008, before I became involved with his identification, he appeared on the Dr. Phil television program.  Benjaman has an article on Wikipedia that in September 2010 received just under 250,000 visitors.  He has a Facebook page, too.  In total, millions of people have read or heard about Benjaman.  Yet after six years, we still don’t know who he is.

We have had some stunning close calls.  In May 2009, we received a tip that a man closely resembling Benjaman appears in a YouTube video We Love You dedicated to missing persons. The man only appears for a few moments about 32 seconds into the video.  I did not catch him until I was specifically told when to look for him.

To compare Benjaman to this missing person, I composed a new face from the right half of Mr. X’s face and the half of Benjaman’s face.  The result was comical, but a fair indication that they resembled each other.  I wrote to the person who had posted the video, only to be told that he had no further information about any of the people who appeared, not even their names. The images had been taken from missing persons flyers that had since been thrown away.

Fortunately, thanks to an intensive search of missing persons sites on the internet, we discovered Mr. X’s identity on the Thin Blue Line , the unofficial New South Wales police service website.  He is Spiro Georgakopoulos, b. 10 December 1932, missing since 9 June 1990 from Bankstown, New South Wales.  He is definitely not Benjaman.


Another close call occurred in July 2009 when Benjaman appeared in a series of articles in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Denver Post.  Since Benjaman has some very accurate memories of the Round the Corner on the Hill restaurant in Boulder from the late 1970s-early 1980s, we felt we might be able to find someone who recognized him through publicity in the Boulder newspapers.


One of the first of about two dozen tips to come in was from Hardy Bullock, who told me that Benjaman resembled one of the coaches of his daughter’s 8- and 9-year-old softball team in about 1980.  The coaches worked for the Round the Corner restaurant chain that was the corporate sponsor for the team.   Hardy’s daughter was one of only two girls on the team.  Hardy told me that the name of the coach appeared on the back of the photo as Ken M___.  (See the coach on the right in the picture below.)


I agreed with Hardy that Benjaman resembled Ken M, but it was hard to say they were the same person, since the baseball picture had been taken 30 years ago.  Fortunately, Ken’s last name was unusual, so that I quickly began to search for more information about him, to see if he had been reported missing.

Almost immediately, two former managers at Round the Corner contacted me independently identifying Benjaman as the same Ken M.  This gave me more confidence that I finally had an identification.  I had already contacted the family of the former owners of the restaurant who had seen the newspaper article.  They were very helpful in giving me a list of people who worked for the restaurant. One of them was Bob T____, Ken’s best friend back in the 1980s.  Unfortunately, when we finally got in touch with Bob, he told us that he had seen Ken at a barbeque just six months before.  Bob also sent us a link to a photograph of Ken at the barbeque.

Benjaman was not Ken M.

To be continued…

Part I, Part II, Part III, Conclusion

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Benjaman’s 23 and Me Matches

Benjaman Kyle

Benjaman Kyle is the adopted name of an amnesiac who was found near Savannah, GA in August 2004.  (See his Wikipedia page for more details.)  Since recovering from a severe beating that left him unconscious, he cannot remember who he is.  Benjaman took a 23andMe autosomal DNA test earlier this year, hoping to discover close relatives, or at least possible names in his family and the geographical locations where they could be found. As of December 9, 2010, Benjaman’s list of 23andMe matches includes a total of 411 matches ranging from 3rd to 10th cousins. 

Benjaman’s top 23andMe match is a third cousin named Thomas Perry whose family has lived in the area around Saluda, SC for at least two hundred years.  Benjaman has also found 67 matches at the 4th cousin level.  The rest of his matches are estimated as 5th cousin and more remote.

Hoping to discover clues to Benjaman’s geographical origins, I created a map showing the locations associated with the family pedigrees of eight of his top matches, including the Perrys of Saluda and some of his top-ranked 4th cousins.  There are many more matches, listed as 4th cousins and above, who have not accepted contact.  If I ever hear from them, I will add them to the map.  A couple of matches who have accepted contact were adopted and know nothing about their families, so they have been excluded.  A couple of others who accepted contact are closely related to each other, so that they share the same family pedigree.  These families have been included only once.

The map below shows the locations associated with Benjaman’s top match Thomas Perry, whose family originated mostly in western South Carolina, southeast of Greenville.

The Perrys of South Carolina

When information derived from pedigrees of other top matches are added, the map becomes more interesting.  A few thumbnail portraits of his matches and the colored balloons associated with them are shown as examples below.  

Geography of Benjaman's Closest 23 and Me Matches

The area with the greatest number of different colors is still in western South Carolina.  A closeup of the map gives more details:

Between the mid 1700s and the mid 1900s, family members of all of Benjaman’s closest matches lived in this area.  Dates range from the birth of James McDavid (10 February 1766, Greenville; Winship-Parker family tree) through Perry family members still living in Saluda today.  This does not mean that Benjaman was born in this area, nor that his parents were born here.  Considering that the map is based on one 3rd cousin and several 4th cousins, his connection to western South Carolina probably dates back to the late 1700s-early 1800s.

Each time I hear from a new 23andMe match, I check his pedigree for names that he shares with Benjaman’s other matches.  I also check for common geography.  So far the names associated with his closest matches including Perry, Parker, Hooper, Davenport, Davis, and Harris, but because they are so common, it has been impossible to connect any of the families based on them.  I also watch for Powells and Davidsons to whom Benjaman’s might be related along his male line.  (See earlier entry.)  But so far, no luck. 

I will keep trying.  I conscientiously monitor Benjaman’s 23andMe page for new results, and follow up on each new match who accepts contact.  I also keep an eye out for Y-DNA matches for him in the Sorenson and YSearch databases.  When I finally discover Benjaman’s identity, I will have no doubts that I have the right guy.  At the moment, I feel like I know everything about him except for his name.

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Special Projects

July 2010      Consultant, Elmer Crawford Murder Case, Melbourne, Victoria                               Police Department

–    Assisted Melbourne law enforcement in locating a mitochondrial DNA reference in                 Ireland and Australia for fugitive killer Elmer Crawford who murdered his wife and               three children in 1970 in Australia, to establish whether or not a look-alike drifter in             Texas was Crawford. (He was not.)  See Identifinders Blog entries August 29-                       September 1, 2010, DNA Rule-Out for Cold Case Australia, Parts I & II.

Feb 2010       Consultant, Grim Sleeper Serial Murder Case, Los Angeles                                        Police Department

–    Assisted the LAPD with the identification of the Grim Sleeper Serial Murderer through         comparing his DNA profile with genetic genealogy database.  Was able to confirm killer         was African American along the male line of his family.

Feb 2009       Consultant, Benjaman Kyle Amnesia Victim Identification

–    Directing and organizing efforts, with the help of Benjaman’s advocate, with the                     identification of amnesia victim found in Savannah, GA in 2002.  See story on                        Identifinders website at Benjaman Kyle, the Man without An Identity.

Sep 2008       Consultant, Herman Rosenblat Holocaust Fraud Exposure

–   Strategist and researcher for team that exposed Herman Rosenblat’s soon-to-be-                  published and Oprah-touted best-selling “apple over the fence” Holocaust memoire as a      fraud.  Publication was subsequently canceled.  See story on Identifinders website                Identifinders Strikes Again!  Forensic Genealogists Unmask Another Holocaust Fraud.

Mar 2008      Chair and Organizer, Forensic Science Workshop and Panel                                     Discussion, Defense and Security Symposium, SPIE Optical                                       Society, Orlando, FL.

Feb 2008       Consultant, Misha Defonseca Holocaust Fraud Exposure

–   Strategist and researcher for team that exposed Misha Defonseca’s best-selling                      Holocaust memoir Surviving with Wolves as a fraud.  Read story on Identifinders                website at Misha Defonseca Cries Wolf, Holocaust Fraud Exposed.

2008-2009    Consultant, Amelia Earhart Project

–   Only person to successfully locate a family reference for Fred Noonan, Amelia Earhart’s      navigator for DNA testing the remains found on Gardener Island in the Pacific.

2007-2008    Consultant, U.S. Armed Force DNA Identification Laboratory,                                 Rockville, MD

–   Identification of the Unknown Child on the Titanic –   See Identifinders            blog entries Unknown Child on the Titanic August 14-21, 2010.

–   The Hand in the Snow (Northwest Flight 4422) Project – Identification of the          remains of a merchant mariner killed in the crash of Northwest Airlines Flight #4422,          Alaska, March 18, 1948.  Read more on Identifinders website at The Hand in the Snow.

Mar 2007      Chair and Organizer, Forensic Science Workshop and Panel                                     Discussion, Defense and Security Symposium, SPIE Optical                                       Society, Orlando, FL.

2006-2008    Consultant, Hebron Investments, Scottsdale, AZ

–   Locating owners of unclaimed property based on a name and a last known address                sometimes over 20 years old.  Specializing in international locations including Taiwan,          Japan, Hong Kong, Venezuela, Argentina, Panama, Guatemala, the US, Canada, the              Netherland Antilles, Estonia, Lebanon, Morocco, France, Italy, and England.

2006-2007    Consultant, Becker Entertainment, Los Angeles, CA

–   Edited and reworked proposal to Discovery Channel for a series on forensic                            genealogy.  Episodes involved the genealogies of famous people of various ethnic                    backgrounds.

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The Dead Horse Investigation – Update

The Famous Sheboygan Dead Horse Picture

The man, the myth, the legend…over a century later, the questions still linger: Who is the man in the picture, and what is he doing sitting on a dead horse in the middle of the intersection of Indiana and Griffith Aves. in Sheboygan, WI?

Those of you who have read The Dead Horse Investigation:  Forensic Photo Analysis for Everyone, are aware that we were able to narrow down the date of the famous Sheboygan Dead Horse photo to five possibilities:  May 5, 1867, 1872, or 1878, or August 10, 1873 and 1879.  Through a fortuitous encounter with a member of the Saskatchewan Genealogical Society named Susan, we have been able to further narrow the date even further.

A short review for new Dead Horse afficianados…

The intersection of Griffith and Indiana Aves in Sheboygan is quite different now than it was in the late 1800s.  Today there is a traffic circle located just north of where the man was seated on his dead horse.

The area of Sheboygan pictured was the industrial area in town in those days.  Not many records of the development of this area on the south side of the Sheboygan River survive. No earliest date can be obtained from building permits or construction records.  City directories have also been of no use.  They were not published every year, and where they do exist, the listings only reference intersections or streets, without mentioning specific addresses.

Fortunately, there are other clues that can be used to date the picture.  The key to the earliest date the picture could have been taken comes from noticing that the photograph was taken with a wide angle lens. Only using such a lens could the photograph include over half the width of the street, 40 ft.

The wide angle lens was first produced in 1865 in by Emil Busch in Rathnow, Germany.  Of course, it probably took some time for news of the lens to reach Sheboygan, and even more time for the photographer to obtain one. The true earliest date of the picture (the date the photographer received the lens) was probably much later than 1865, but we don’t have enough information to know when this happened. All we can say is that the picture must have been taken after the invention of the wide angle lens in 1865.

The latest date the photo could have been taken comes from comparing the shadows of the buildings to information given by the 1880 census. The census for that year tells us that there were three saloons occupying corners of the intersection.  The northeast corner is occupied by the Evergreen Hotel, the Italianate building in the background to the right that was a hotel and saloon built long before the 1880s.  The southeast corner across from it is empty.

A Missing Shadow

Sheboygan was built on a grid with the streets running north-south and east-west.  The photographer was looking to the north along what was then Griffith Ave, now known as 8th Ave. When a line is drawn from the empty southeast corner directly across the street to the southwest corner, it does not pass through the shadow falling on the man. That shadow is being cast by the building that is on the second lot from the corner. We can’t see what was on the southwest corner, but we can conclude that it was empty.

Since there were at least two empty corners at the time the photograph was taken, it must have been produced before 1880.

The picture was taken between 1865 and 1880.

The time of day can be derived by using the man as a sundial. Measuring the length of the shadow he cast would normally be difficult without a correction for the perspective of the camera.  That is, lengths as viewed by the camera will appear shortened by the sine of the angle of the line-of-sight of the camera with respect to the length being measured.  There would also be a correction for the effects of the wide angle lens, which can also distort lengths.

However as luck has it, the shadows in the picture run directly across the street, so that the sun is exactly in the west (270 degrees azimuth). With the camera facing north-south, the corrections for perspective are much easier.  Actually, if we assume that the photographer was far away from the man and the horse relative to the width of the street, we can neglect the effects of perspective all together. This was probably true, although it might not seem like it because of the way the wide angle lens distorts distances.

To determine the time of day, you also need the height of the sun over the horizon, called its elevation.  This can be determined by using a little bit of high school trig. The line from the top of the man’s hat to the tip of its shadow on the street is the hypotenuse of a triangle.  The line from the same point on the hat to the ground is the side of the triangle opposite the angle we wish to know.  The sine of the angle is the length of the opposite side divided by the length of the hypotenuse.  Taking the arcsine gives us an angle of 15.7 degrees.

You finally need the coordinates of the man and his horse.  According to Google Earth, the man was located about 43 deg 44′ 35″ N latitude, 87 deg 42′ 47″ W longitude.

An ephemeris will tell you that the sun is at 270 degrees azimuth and 15.7 degrees elevation at this location in Sheboygan every year on May 5 and August 10 at 4:52 pm.

To recap, the picture was taken on May 5 or August 10, between 1865 and 1880 at 4:52 pm.

Although the Sheboygan neighborhood shown in the picture was an industrial area, the streets are almost deserted.  To help us narrow down the date even further, we guessed that the picture was taken on a Sunday; otherwise we believe that the street would have been more crowded, if not with people, then with wagons and other horses.

Using the perpetual calendar at, the only instances when May 5 or August 10 fell on a Sunday were May 5, 1867, 1872, and 1878, or August 10, 1873 and 1879.

In the Dead Horse Investigation, we left it at that.  However, during my recent conference in September 2010 in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, a member of the Saskatchewan Genealogical Society named Susan noticed a clue that even the top Dead Horse experts in the world had missed – the leaves on the trees behind the A-frame building in the background to the left.

Because I come from a warm climate, it did not occur to me that the trees in Sheboygan would still be without leaves as late in the year as May.  Since the tree looks like it is in full foliage, the picture must have been taken on either August 10, 1873, or August 10, 1879.

If anyone has any ideas on why the scene favors either one of these dates, please contact me immediately.  In the meantime, buy the book, don’t wait for the movie!

For more information on how you can purchase your very own copy of The Dead Horse Investigation, visit our order desk at

November 26, 2010

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Bonnie’s New Family

Finding Bonnie’s birth father was one of our most difficult birth parent searches. 

Bonnie and her brother Michael shortly after they arrived in the US in 1957.

Bonnie and her brother Michael knew they were born in Germany in the 1950s, but they did not know they were adopted until 2002.  Although Bonnie had a copy of her birth cerificate, she had not questioned why her parents names did not appear on it, and why it was issued two years after she was born. 

When Bonnie’s mother passed away, a chance remark by a neighbor revealed the truth.  Bonnie explains:

We only found out [we were adopted] because of a neighbor woman, who knew my mother through Bingo.  I was walking my dogs when she approached me and offered her condolences.  She casually mentioned to me that after reading my mother’s obituary in 2002,  ‘I thought your mother said you and your brother were adopted’, because the obituary stated she left a son and daughter.  

If this woman had never mentioned anything, this whole experience would never have unfolded.  That’s what makes our story different from other adoptees.  Most adoptees knew from the get go that they were adopted or at least told by the time they were 18.  Not so with us.  We never knew.

Bonnie’s German birth certificate.

As Bonnie found out when she retrieved her German birth cerificate and her court records, Bonnie and her brother Michael had been adopted in 1957, and brought to the US by their adoptive parents, Alvie and Hildegard Montgomery, a GI and his German wife.  The children were naturalized and grew up in California.  Bonnie discovered that her birth name was Hannelore; her brother’s was Hans Georg. The court papers gave the name of their mother as Martha G___.

Bonnie eventually located Martha living in Tennessee.  Her birth mother had married another American GI, Vern H___, and moved to the United States in the late 1950s, where she had become a naturalized citizen.  Bonnie’s reunion with Martha was friendly.  Martha told Bonnie that after her adoptive mother Hildegard had made arrangements to adopt Bonnie, she found out about Michael.  Hildegard was disraught at separating the sister and brother and begged Martha to allow them to adopt Michael, too.  At first Martha said no- she thought she could raise Michael as a single mom.  But Hildegard persisted and Martha relented.  The two children were adopted together and soon on their way to a new life in America.

"Oliver" could have been Snake Oliver's first or last name. This is only one example of the many records I looked throgh searching for him.

When Bonnie questioned Martha about their birth father, she was not forthcoming.  She gave them few details:  their father was an enlisted man named Snake Oliver from West Virginia.  This would later prove completely untrue.

Bonnie contacted me in April 2009 in response to an article about the amnesiac Benjaman Kyle that appeared in the Indianapolis newspaper the Indy Star.  The article gave my contact information for anyone who might recognize him. 

I knew Bonnie’s case would be difficult.  I began by believing everything Martha told Bonnie although I realized that “Oliver” could be either Bonnie’s dad’s first or last name.  I searched all the miliary records I could access, and contacted the military base in Stuttgart where Bonnie and Michael had been adopted, as well as the VA and American Legion Headquarters in West Virginia.  Yet I found no trace of Snake Oliver. 

Even speaking with Martha’s close friends did not turn up anything.  Martha never mentioned her children; the first time some of her inner circle knew about them was after she died and Bonnie sent a sympathy card.  One of these friends gave me the name of Martha’s niece in Germany with an old address for her.  The niece had since moved.  It took much time to find her current address, but the niece had no further information.  I contacted family members and friends in the US, Germany, and France.  Nearly eveyone who had been close to Martha had passed away; those who were left could offer no help.

In the meantime, Michael took a Y-DNA test, hoping to discover their father’s last name through a match among the hundreds of thousands of entries in the genetic genealogy databases.  But he found no matches that were even close.

Yet I did not give up.   There was still one thing missing from the story.

Marienpflege is the largest orphanage in Germany.

Bonnie had been adopted when she was two years old, but she told me she could not recall where she had been during those two years.  She said she assumed she had been with Martha.  On a hunch one night, I called the Marienpflege, the largest orphanage in Germany.  They could not help me directly, but the person I spoke with gave me the phone number of the Jugensamt (Youth Office) in Stuttgart, where Bonnie and Michael had been adopted.  The Jugenamt in turn gave me the phone number of the Adoptionsvermittlung (Adoption Bureau). 

This was right before the Christmas holidays, so I did not get much further until a few weeks later. When the government offices opened again in January, I spoke to Sybille Breit at the Adoptionsvermittlung who thankfully spoke perfect English.  Sybille informed me that there are three kinds of adoptions in Germany – Catholic, Protestant, and civil, and that she was in touch with the three agencies handling them.  She said she would call them and enquire about Bonnie and Michael’s adoption records.

Like magic, within days, the records appeared in my email box.  Bonnie and Michael were stunned to learn that they had different fathers.  They had assumed their whole lives that they were full siblings, the biological children of the parents who raised them.  It was surprisng enough for them to learn they had been adopted- learning they had different fathers was overwhelming.

Both fathers had unusual names, yet they were not easy to locate.  I sent countless messages to people with those family names on Facebook. I searched LinkedIn and Googled their names.  I contacted the military again with the more accurate information I had.  Bonnie’s father David S___ had been stationed at the Funkerkaserne in Esslingen, but it was closed a long time ago and is now in ruins.  Since neither father appeared in the Social Security Death Index, I knew they were both still alive.

Finally I decided to try the good old fashioned way of finding people and looked in the telephone book.  There were five David S____’s in the United States who fell within the age bracket of her biological father.  On Memorial day I planned to contact them one by one, but did not get very far.  The first David S___ I called was Bonnie’s dad.

Bonnie and her dad.

The next few days were exciting.  David S___ was surprised to hear about his new daughter.  Martha had not told him about Bonnie.  Yet he was as excited about meeting her as Bonnie was about meeting him.  They were in touch at first through email and then over the phone.  A paternity test came back positive making it official – I had found Bonnie’s dad. 

Bonnie, her father, David, and her new sister Susan were reunited on Bonnie’s 55th birthday-a nice day for a happy ending.

Bonnie, her new sister Susan, and Bonnie's daughter Jennifer.

As Bonnie told me:  Thankfully your article about Benjamin Kyle in the INDY Star brought us to you and you were the final tool in getting this whole story unraveled!  Thanks again Colleen for every effort that you’ve made in locating my birth father.

We are still searching for Michael’s birth father, and hope to have a second happy ending in the near future.

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DNA Rule-Out for Cold Case, Australia, 1970 – Part II

Australian genealogist Deb Cashion

Through a casual exchange of emails a few weeks ago, Deb Cashion alerted me to a recent article “Police chase DNA of Elmer Crawford relatives in Northern Ireland” that appeared in the Herald Sun.  It described the Victoria police search for a DNA family reference for Crawford.    

Since I was traveling in Ireland at the time, I offered to help locate the required reference.  Deb put me in touch with Keith Moor, the Insight Editor of the Herald Sun, an award-winning journalist and the author of the article.  Keith forwarded me two new articles that appeared in the Sun on July 14 “Mystery man was a drifter” and July 15 “Police chase tip to retrieve DNA” that provided more information on the case.       

Elmer about the Time of the Murders

According to the articles, authories were searching for Crawford family members who could serve as DNA references for Elmer.  The object was to compare family DNA to that of an unidentified man who had died in a Texas hospital in 2005 who was thought to be Elmer. 

Under normal circumstances, Y-DNA would have been used to confirm the Texan as Elmer.  Because the Y-chromosome follows the male line of a family as does the family name in western cultures, a Y-DNA match offers the most straightforward method of identifying an unknown male.  Elmer could have aged, he could be living under an assumed name, or he even could have had cosmetic surgery to alter his appearance, but he could not have changed his DNA.        

Y-DNA matching could not be done in the present case, however, because Elmer was illegitimate of unknown paternity, had no known brothers, and his son was dead.  (He killed him).  There were no males who would qualify as a Y-DNA reference, so that mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) would have to be used instead.  Because this type of DNA is handed down along the direct female line of a family, it can be difficult to locate a family member who can serve as an mtDNA reference because the name changes in each generation.  

In my experience, the key to success in soliciting someone to give a DNA sample is being well prepared with information about his family pedigree. My first step was to learn as much about Elmer himself as I could. 

Elmer Kyle Crawford Baptismal Record

Elmer was born 18 May 1929 in Quebec, Canada, the son of Anna B. Crawford and an unknown father. His mother traveled to Canada from Tamneymartin, Maghera Parish, Co. Derry, Ireland, to give birth to Elmer.  This information allowed me to locate his baptismal record in the Drouin Collection, the largest repository of French Canadian church records.  He was baptized 11 June 1929 in Hemmingford, Quebec.  One of his baptismal sponsors was his maternal grandmother Elizabeth Crawford. The Sarah Crawford whose burial record appears on the page following Elmer’s baptismal record was probably a relative, perhaps the reason Elmer was born in Hemmingford.

During a brainstorm, I emailed the Maghera District Genealogy and History Society for “Help with a Murder Case”.  An immediate response came from Society member Denver Boyd, “We don’t normally get emails as dramatic as yours!”

Denver provided a pedigree of the Crawford family.  It seemed ordinary even though one of its branches ended with a cold-blooded killer.  He also provided me with the contact information of Gilbert Crawford, a local businessman, auctioneer, and Justice of the Peace.  He is also Anna B. Crawford’s nephew.  If anyone knew everyone, it would be Gilbert.

In the next few days, with the help of Denver and Gilbert, I discovered that Anna’s sisters had not married and had had no children.  It was time to research one generation back, with the hope of finding a female line that had survived. 

Descendants of Robert Kyle, Elmer Crawford's Great Grandfather

Elizabeth Kyle Crawford’s family was large.  She had four sisters and three brothers.  It seemed there was ample probability of success.  Yet according to the family chart, of those four sisters, the only one to marry besides Elizabeth was her younger sister Charlotte.  Charlote had had three sons and one daughter Kathleen, but Kathleen was deceased and had had no children.  I was back to square one.  

Maghera Parish, Ireland

In a foreign country, internet access can be difficult when you are staying in B&B’s as we were.  Libraries usually have terminals for their patrons to check email and surf the web, but it is usually not possible to connect your laptop to their server.  If you have to send email attachments, libraries are not much use to you.  Drogheda, the largest town near the village where were were staying, did not have an internet cafe, but we were lucky to discover a hotel where I could purchase broadband access.  Since my cell phone did not work in Ireland, my personal calls to the Crawford family had to be made over Skype from the hotel.  This was a quiet and comfortable arrangement, but it did not allow anyone to call me back.  

Nevertheless a lucky mistake led to the sought-after mtDNA reference.  After speaking to Gilbert’s sister June, the Crawford family genealogist, I discovered that I had forgotten to ask her for a certain phone number.  I was glad I called her back.  June had just located her genealogical documents, and discovered that Elizabeth’s sister Sarah had not died in 1901, as indicated by the family chart.  The notation shown in the chart was only an abbreviation.  The attached pedigree that I had ignored revealed that Sarah had died after 1901.  June discovered that Sarah had married, had had two daughters and a son, had lived until April 1979 and that Sarah’s granddaughter Lois still lives in Maghera Parish.  By coincidence Lois’ daughter Sheelagh lives in New South Wales, Australia making it convenient for the Victoria police to contact her for a DNA sample.  

Although it sounds as if everything fell into place at one time, it took me several days to work out the family connections.  We were traveling, and the hotel internet proved too expensive for everyday use.  Luckily we discovered that the local McDonald’s offered free internet access with the purchase of a cup of coffee.  Free parking was included.  Over the next few days, we drank a lot of McDonald’s coffee as I emailed to Keith Moor and the Victoria police Sheelagh’s contact information and the documentation confirming her as Elmer Kyle Crawford’s mtDNA reference.  My job was done.

Elmer Kyle Crawford, c 1970

It took a few weeks for the authorities to obtain a DNA sample from Sheelagh, analyze it, and discover it did not match the man who died in the Texas hospital.  The man in the hospital is still unidentified, and Elmer Kyle Crawford, who so brutally murdered his young family in 1970, is still at large.   

If you have any information on the whereabouts of Elmer Kyle Crawford, please contact me at  You may remain anonymous.  

DNA Rule-Out for Cold Case, Australia, 1970 – Part I 


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DNA Rule-Out for Cold Case, Australia, 1970 – Part I

James, Theresa, Karen, and Kathryn about the time of the Loch Ard Gorge blowhole, Port Campbell Park, Victoria, Australia

A crime that could not escape media attention in Australia, any more than the Manson family murders could have evaded the public eye here in the States-Elmer Crawford brutally murdered his pregnant wife Theresa (35) and his three children Kathryn (13), James (8), and Karen (6) in 1970. He then disappeared.   

He electrocuted them while they slept using an electrical cable he had fashioned from an extension cord and alligator clips he attached to various places on their bodies, then bashed them with a hammer.  He then drove nearly four hundred miles with their bodies in the back of his car, and rolled it over the side of the Loch Ard Gorge in Port Campbell National Park, Victoria.  He was probably hoping the car would vanish into the Gorge’s spectacular blowhole where the sea surges underground for 100 metres and then erupts through a huge hole, 17 metres deep and 40 metres wide.  To his misfortune, a drainage ditch on the cliff overlooking the Gorge prevented Elmer from easily rolling the car off the edge of the cliff.  The crude ramp he built to maneuver it over the ditch caused the car to land on the embankment below, thwarting what might have otherwise been a perfect crime.    

Loch Ard Gorge blowhole, Port Campbell Park, Victoria, Australia

 Elmer’s motive for committing such an horrific crime may never be known, but an unfinished letter written by his wife indicated his unhappiness with her pregnancy, and that she had recently discovered that Elmer had been stealing from the Victoria Racing Club where he had been employed for years.         

Fast forward to 2008, when Australian genealogy sleuth Deb Cashion noticed a resemblance between an age-progressed picture of Elmer in a Victoria’s Herald Sun newspaper article and that of an unidentified man who had died in a Texas hospital three years earlier. Facial recognition experts with the Victoria police and the FBI in Quantico, VA agreed that there was a close match beween the two, but sought a DNA test to confirm the identification.  

As an experienced photo analyst, I am aware that facial recognition is not an exact science, nor are age progression techniques.  Two people can strongly resemble each other, yet not be related at all.  How many times have you run into someone who looks enough like you to be your twin?  Age progression techniques have been used to produce highly accurate renditions of what individuals look like at an advanced age, based on the aging patterns of their parents and their psychological profiles.  But until a person is found, is it not possible to know how well his appearance as an older person has been predicted.  Yet facial recognition and age progression techniques can be used to rule-out that two people are the same, by comparing features such as the shape of the hairline and eyebrows, and the width of the nose bridge.  The folds in earlobes can also be useful.  If selected features mismatch, the two people cannot be the same.  

Elmer about the time of the murders, what he might look like today, and the man who died unidentified in a Texas hospital

The unidentified Texan could not be ruled out as Elmer Crawford.  Both men were the same height, had the same eye color, and tilted their head at the same angle.  They also had the same deformity of their left ears.  The Texan’s hairline was similar to that of the age-progessed photo of Elmer, as were his wrinkled forehead and jowls.       

Yet even a close match between the two did not prove they were the same person.  Since the man in Texas had obliterated his fingerprints, fingerprinting could be not used.  A DNA test was needed.  That’s where I came in. 

To be continued…   

DNA Rule-Out for Cold Case, Australia, 1970 – Part II

Read most recent Herald Sun Articles:  

DNA tests confirm unidentified body in Texas is not Elmer Crawford          August 26, 2010  

On the trail of killer dad Elmer Crawford                                                                   August 26, 2010 


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