KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Recently, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced that the unidentified remains of 10 people who were at the center of cold cases had been submitted for DNA testing through the TBI’s Unidentified Human Remains DNA Initiative.
The TBI identified 14 cases total that were eligible for the initiative that started in 2022. The Tennessee General Assembly approved a one-time funding of $100,000 to fund the initiative, which the TBI said is specifically being used to identify skeletal remains of victims in cold cases through forensic genetic genealogy testing. Remains from 10 of those individuals have been submitted to Othram Inc., a private lab based in Woodlands, Texas to conduct DNA extraction and sequencing.
Through information from the TBI and the corresponding National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) profiles, which TBI confirmed matched the cases, a more comprehensive explanation of each case is provided below.
Johnson County – 1977
Cheatham County – 1981
August 16, 2023 Update: The TBI released that the skeletal remains found in Chetham County on October 21, 1981 were identified as 16-year-old Linda Sue Karnes of Cunningham, Tennessee. The TBI believes that Karnes was murdered and is asking anyone with information about her death, specifically any knowledge of who she may have been with before her death, to call 1-800-TBI-FIND.
The TBI said a teenage girl was found in Cheatham County on October 21, 1981. According to the TBI’s release, the female was estimated to be between the ages of 14 and 17.
NamUs said the white female was found on the same day and in the same area, however, the age estimate says she could have been 15 to 20 years old. According to NamUs, the woman who was believed to be a hitchhiker had been dead for approximately three months when she was found in a county dump. The profile does not list any clothing or accessories, but it does say that she had brown hair.
McMinn County – 1983
The TBI said the victim, in this case, was a 20- to 30-year-old white woman who was found in McMinn County on August 5, 1983.
According to NamUs, the woman was found by two hunters at the Ore Quarry in Sweetwater, Tennessee. Her body had been wrapped in a bedspread and curtains that were tied with twine, similar to what one might use for hay bailing or on a farm.
NamUs said she had long, curly, medium-brown hair, although her body was in an advanced state of decomposition. It is estimated that she was between 5’1″ and 5’7″. When her body was found, she was wearing a white t-shirt with a green teddy bear design, a white and pink flowered cotton pullover with lace appliqued and with a row of pearl-type buttons halfway down the front.
Cumberland County – 1983
September 7, 2023 Update: The TBI released on Wednesday, September 6, that the remains found in Cumberland County on August 26, 1983 were identified as Kenneth Levall Thompson, who was around 17 years old when he died.
The year following Thompson’s remains were found, the TBI and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office identified a suspect who was charged with second-degree murder. That suspect pled guilty in exchange for a 20-year prison sentence. TBI Special Agent Brandon Elkins said a case like this one, where someone is sentenced to the crime before the victim is identified, is very rare, but the investigators continued searching for Thompson’s identity to give his family answers.
The TBI has made one final request on behalf of Thompson’s family. The only photo that Thompson’s 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.
On August 26, 1986, the TBI said a Black male, possibly a teenager, was found in Cumberland County. Age estimates that the victim was between 15 and 20 years old.
According to the young man’s NamUs profile, it was believed he had been dead for around a week when he was found, however, he was 5’8″ and 165 pounds. He had black hair and brown eyes. NamUs said he was found wearing blue jeans, and an apple brand, size large, light blue t-shirt that had an emblem on the front saying “I’m hers because she deserves the best.”
Cheatham County – 1985
July 21, 2023 Update: The TBI released that the woman in this case was identified as Michelle Lavone Inman, 23, of Nashville. TBI special agents are now asking for the public’s help to determine who killed her.
On April 2, 1985, a woman was found in Cheatham County, the TBI said. It is estimated she was around 30 to 40 years old.
NamUs said that when she was found beside the westbound lanes of I-24 between mile markers 29 and 30, in Pleasant View, Tennessee, she had likely been dead for around 2 months. Her body was not recognizable, but she had red or auburn hair and was estimated to be 5’1″. Near the woman’s body, investigators found a hat with a palm tree, a light pink shirt with pink flowers, a pink sweater with small blue spots, pants, and a black bra.
Loudon County – 1985
Sept. 20, 2023 Update: The TBI released that the man in this case was identified as James Keith Nuchols, 58, of Blount County. TBI special agents are now asking for the public’s help to determine who killed him.
A white man, approximately 51-60 years old, was found in Loudon County on October 1, 1985, according to the TBI.
According to NamUs, the man may have been found a few days earlier on September 29, but he was found along a roadside in Lenoir City. While NamUs does not list how long the man had been dead, when he was found, he was not recognizable. His profile says he had brown hair but was bold on the top of his head, and that he was an estimated 5’7″ tall. He also had a scar on his abdomen and a scar on his chest, the profile said.
Claiborne County – 1986
Through the TBI’s Unidentified Human Remains DNA Initiative, the remains of a man found in Claiborne County on August 24, 1985 were identified as Jerry Harrison, 28, of Little Rock, Arkansas. On June 7, the TBI released that his remains were identified after a sample was submitted to Othram Inc., a private lab based in Texas, which helped a TBI intelligence analyst locate potential family members in Arkansas who confirmed that they had a brother they had not heard from in Decades.
The TBI said Harrison was shot and his death was ruled a homicide. Now, TBI special agents are hoping the public can help provide information that may help solve the case. Anyone with information about the homicide, specifically any information about who Harrison may have been with before he died, is urged to call 1-800-TBI-FIND (1-800-824-3463)
Hickman County – 1988
According to NamUs, the man’s body was found face down in a ditch off of I-40 in Bucksnort, Tennessee, with his hands and feet bound and multiple gunshot wounds to his head. It’s estimated that he was found only hours after he died.
The man was 5’6″ tall, 148 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. NamUs said he also had a scar or mark on his upper left arm and chest. When his body was found, he was wearing a blue Dickey jumpsuit, a grey swimsuit with blue stripes on the side, and dark blue and grey Coaster brand, docksider-type shoes
Cocke County – 1999
A Hispanic man, estimated to be between 25 to 29 years old, was found in Cocke County on August 9, 1999, according to the TBI.
According to NamUs, the man’s remains were recovered from the Nolichucky River, a 115-mile river that flows from the mountains in western North Carolina through East Tennessee. It’s estimated the man had been dead for days when he was found, however, no physical features are listed in the description of the man.
Dickson County – 2018
The most recent case that the TBI submitted for DNA testing through the initiative was a white man believed to be between 47 to 67 years old that was found in Dickson County on May 18, 2018.
The man’s NamUs profile says that power line workers were reportedly performing “right of way” clearing and maintenance duties in an area between Cumberland Furnace and Greenwood when they found the man’s remains down in a well. According to NamUs, the unrecognizable remains found were consistent with a white male 35 years old or older, and he was estimated to be between 5’4″ and 5’10” tall.
No hair or eye color are listed for the man, but NamUs says when the man’s remains were found, he was wearing a dark blue plaid button-down shirt, dark brown or black rubber boots, and white socks.
Othram is the same private lab responsible for helping Gatlinburg Police identify a woman whose remains were found 48 years previously as Charlotte Roberta Henry. The Chief Development Officer at Othram explained to WATE’s Molly O’Brien in March that takes about six to 12 weeks to build for Othram to build a profile.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with new information.