KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A family finally has answers after a cold case victim was identified 40 years after their remains were found. While a guilty plea was reached in the case, a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation special agent said the identification is a “good example of just not quitting.”
Less than a year later, the TBI and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office charged a suspect in the case with second-degree murder. According to the TBI, the suspect pled guilty in May of 1984 in exchange for a 20-year prison sentence.
TBI Special Agent Brandon Elkins said that while the suspect did ultimately serve a prison sentence, investigators did not stop fighting to find out who the victim was.
“We continued on and pushed forward and tried to identify this victim to get some much-needed answers for a family that’s been waiting a really long time.”
Elkins explained that cases where the victim is unknown are very complex, but this case in particular was very rare in that a suspect was identified and sentenced before Thompson was identified.
“Without knowing the identity of the victim, it makes our jobs much tougher. The more that we can know about the victim, the the closer we can get to finding out who the killer is,” Elkins said. “Having a suspect identified and [sentenced] before identifying the victim is very rare, because again, you know, knowing that the identity of that victim can help us so, so often solve cases, this is just one of those unique situations that, as far as my experience, is the first one I’ve dealt with.”
Since Thompson’s remains were found, technology has developed from relying heavily on fingerprints to forensic genetic genealogy, which allows investigators to find a victim’s relatives using a sample of their DNA. According to Elkins, Thompson’s identification is an example of how investigators continue to fight for answers, despite
“The moral of the story is here that we just don’t stop. Just because technology doesn’t carry us far enough or just because investigative strategy doesn’t work… Just because a person is convicted of a crime, there’s always options, right? We’ve got to try to find those options constantly looking for ways to think outside the box to be able to provide these answers to the family that’s waited so long,” Elkins said
Thompson is the fourth victim to be identified through the TBI’s Unidentified Human Remains DNA Initiative, in which 10 cold cases where unidentified victim’s DNA samples were submitted to Othram Labs, Inc. in Texas for forensic genetic genealogy testing.
Elkins said the TBI is communicating with Othram daily, and they are going to continue working on the cases until they can hopefully identify everyone.
While it seems Thompson’s case may have finally come to a close, the TBI has made one last request for help from the public on his family’s behalf.
Thompson died when he was approximately 17 years old, the TBI says, and the only photo of him that surviving family members could find of him was taken when he was a child. The TBI asks anyone who knew him during his life and has access to a photograph taken of him in the late 1970s or early 1980s is asked to contact them at 1-800-TBI-FIND.