Benjaman Kyle – Close Calls, Part II

Benjaman Kyle

Since I have been involved in trying to identify the amnesiac Benjaman Kyle, I’ve seen many leads come in, ranging from the casual to the very serious. Many people have contacted me that they are related to Powells or Davidsons (or both).  Many people have written to direct me to websites describing missing persons who they believe might be Benjaman.  Many others have sent in pictures of their relatives, friends and acquaintances who they believe resemble Benjaman, in a sincere desire to assist in his identification.

Mary Beth Pierson's Benjaman Look-Alike

One example of a Benjaman look-alike is this picture sent to me by Mary Beth Pierson who believed her former neighbor resembled him. I agreed, although the neighbor had been a pilot in the military, and we doubt that Benjaman has had any military experience.  I asked Mary Beth to follow up on him with her present neighbors to see if they knew what happened to him.  Unfortunately, someone had talked to the neighbor recently, so we were out of luck.

One missing person who has been called to my attention more than once is Kyle Clinkscales, who disappeared from Lagrange, GA on January 27, 1976.  At first his parents believed he left on his own accord, but because of tips the police have received through the years, it is now believed that Kyle was murdered.  Even so, Kyle’s disappearance remains officially unsolved.

Kyle Clinkscales

Kyle Clinkscales

To the casual observer, Kyle’s case seems like a good candidate for a match to Benjaman.  His age would be about right, as would his height.  His whereabouts in Georgia check out.  His name was Kyle.  And the shape of his face is not too far off.  As in many cases, however, the match falls apart based on physical characteristics that are not shared by the two men.  For example, Kyle had previously fractured his ring finger, while Benjaman has scars that Kyle did not have.

Everyone who has contacted me has had the best of intentions.  But because it is impossible for me to follow every lead that comes in, I use my “three reasons” guidelines to decide whether I take a lead seriously or just keep it in reserve pending further developments.  If the lead has only one reason for researching it further, I usually don’t follow it down.  An example would be a Powell family who are related to Davidsons (see my earlier post about Benjaman’s Y-DNA results), but who have nothing else to suggest they might be related to Benjaman.  If the lead presents two reasons for following it down, I think a little harder about it, but usually put it aside for more serious consideration later.  A Powell family who are related to Davidsons and who live in Oregon would fall into this category.  If the lead has three reasons, I usually take it seriously and research it as far as I can.  A Powell family related to Davidsons living in Oregon with a child born 29 August 1948 would be this kind of lead. (Benjaman believes that his birthdate is 29th August 1948.  See his Wikipedia page for the full story.)

I discovered a lead that fell into this most serious category through an article that appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on 6 July 2006 reporting the death of Jeremy Kyle Davidson of Inman, VA.

On August 20, 2004 at 2:40 am, a boulder weighing 1,000 lbs was dislodged by a bulldozer widening a road at a strip mine site in Inman, causing it to roll toward the Davidsons’ house 649 feet below. The stone crashed through the side of the house and two interior walls, crushing Jeremy before stopping against his 7-year-old brother Zachary’s bed.  The article continued with commentary about A & G Coal, the owner the mine, and with a description of the lawsuit that the Davidsons had filed against the company.

Jeremy Kyle Davidson

There were three parallels between the article about Jeremy’s death and Benjaman’s story that caused me to consider it as a serious lead:  (1) the accident happened just a week before Benjaman Kyle was discovered unconscious, (2) the coincidence with the name Kyle, and (3) the results of Y-DNA tests that have indicated that Benjaman’s last name might be Davidson.  In hindsight, there is a fourth parallel that would have caused me to consider it even more seriously – Benjaman’s 23andMe autosomal tests reveal he has a family connection to the western Carolinas or eastern Tennessee.  Inman is just north of the North Carolina-Tennessee border.

I considered that perhaps Jeremy was Benjaman’s grandson, and that the trauma of the death of the boy had been too much for him, causing him to experience amnesia, wander away from the area, and that defenseless, he was beaten by someone who left him for dead.

I followed this lead down as far as I could.  I called the Post-Dispatch and even the attorney who was representing the Davidsons in the lawsuit.  But my search came to naught.  Since I did not get any return phone calls, I began to doubt that Benjaman could be connected to the Davidson’s tragedy.  I reasoned that if the accident had caused distress to the parents beyond the loss of their son, it would have undoubtedly been noted in the press.  But I could find nothing to support this.  I shelved the lead, filing it in my mental file cabinet under “coincidence”.

Undoubtedly the most stunning close call came from a woman named Mary Davis who lives in Alabama.  She contacted me after a friend sent her a copy of the article that had appeared about me in the Orange County Register on 5 October 2009.

As Mary explained in her email:

Just heard from a fellow genealogist about your work with Benjaman Kyle.  I also saw the Dr. Phil Show and felt that this man was familiar.

My husband, Michael Steven Davis, a/k/a Michael James King was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on 23 March 1938.  His mother was Jennie Lee King.  No father is listed on the birth record. After many years of researching, I found his grandfather, who was Jennie Lee’s birth father, Wallace Rudio.  Her birth name was Barnette Rudio.  Jennie’s mother was Barbara Lillian Winkler who later married a man named Walter King who raised her but did not legally adopt her.  They lived in Indianapolis, Indiana.  My husband had spent part of his childhood under the asupices of the Catholic Charities in Indiana and we finally got his records after we proved his mother was already deceased.  I have a thick stack of papers regarding Michael’s life in the orphanage and foster homes.

We had earlier found a younger brother Norman Lower who now lives in Indianapolis with his wife and children.

About two years ago another man named Carl Litel contacted the Catholic Charities to see if they had any records for him. He turned out to be a brother. We have all met and through our studies of the Catholic records find that there is yet another brother which we cannot find. The Catholic Charities say they have lost his records. We asked the Dr. Phil Show if they could check DNA and see if these brothers are related to Benjamin Kyle. We have never received an answer from Dr. Phil. This brother would probably be in his 60’s. My husband was the oldest brother at 71 and Norman is the youngest brother. The other two brothers would be in between. They all have the same mother, but different fathers.

I have a Davis Family Tree on you may wish to check. Hoping you can find a connection. The brothers are all willing to be tested for DNA.

Mary Davis

Mary’s story was of the missing brother from Indianapolis was exciting.  He would be about the 60 years old, he would have three brothers, and he would have been taken care of by Catholic Charities in Indianapolis.  This personal information is consistent with what Benjaman can remember.

Mary followed up with a photo of the three brothers.  From left to right:  Norman Lower, Carl Litel (aka Patrick King), and Michael Steven Davis (aka Michael James King).

Three Brothers from Indianapolis

Mary accompanied the photograph with information regarding Jennie King, the boys’ mother, taken from the Catholic Charities report on her husband Mike and his brother Carl (Patrick King) b. 1946:

Reported 10-31-46

Jennie was referred to CCB in a pregnant condition out of wedlock. She was employed at the time as housekeeper by an elderly man who was critically ill. She was living in his home on the south side and was keeping Michael with her. She was delivered of her baby 2-5-46 at St. Francis Hospital. The child has been placed in legal adoption. When the elderly employer died, Jennie received several hundred dollars from his small estate, as well as the right to occupy the house for several months. She kept Michael with her.

The report also contained information about an unidentified third brother [birth name later found to be Robert Lee King]:

Reported 9-17-51

The mother’s whereabouts are unknown. She has had a third child out of wedlock – born in General Hospital. This child has been placed in adoption. It is difficult to locate the mother, as she moves from one rooming house to another in the vicinity of Massachusetts Avenue and Michigan Streets.

Mary continued:

[Jennie’s] last child was with William Lower whom she married. His name is Norman Lower and he lives in the Indianapolis area.

Upon the three brothers meeting, they found lot of things in common. They are all intelligent. Carl is a college graduate, Norman works for the U. S. Government, and Michael is retired from employment at Walt Disney in California. They have many of the same likes and dislikes and spent many hours together talking into the night. They enjoy reading and learning new things. They are collectors of various things. Norman and Mike are both married and have children and grandchildren. Carl is still single but he’s a very busy man. My husband and I are planning on meeting again with them in the next month or so. I do have more pictures of them – just can’t find them right now. I am busy with researching one of my other families.

I hope you will be able to find something regarding these four brothers. It would be good to see all four together.

Mary Davis

Unfortunately Mary’s reports told us almost nothing about brother #3, but several clues about his identity could be derived from the information she did have.  Brother #3 was adopted out by a Catholic organization, he had at least three brothers, his adopted name would be different from his birth name, and he was born in Indianapolis between 1946 and 1951.

To be continued…

Part I, Part II, Part III, Conclusion

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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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