KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — An East Tennessee man identified nearly four decades after his death thanks to new technology and an initiative by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.  Now, the TBI is still searching to bring his family closure.

On September 29, 1985, two juveniles riding their bicycles found a man’s remains along Buttermilk Road in Loudon County, according to TBI Special Agent Brandon Elkins. After they alerted authorities, the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office began investigating.

Wednesday, the TBI released that the man a found in the 1980s had been identified as James Keith Nuchols, 58, of Blount County.

For decades, the remains found along Buttermilk Road off Interstate 40 in Lenoir City were only known as “John Doe.” 

“Investigators at the time used technology that was readily available at the time. Things like fingerprints, dental comparisons, radiographs, x-rays, everything that was readily available. No leads were able to be generated as to the identity,” Elkins said.  

Back then, DNA testing wasn’t a common tool for law enforcement, but now that technology has progressed, law enforcement has seen more success using DNA to identify numerous decades old cases.

“TBI was able to get funds specifically from the governor’s office to work unidentified human remains cases. And so, we submitted samples of all of the cases that we were involved in where we had the remains,” Elkins explained,

forensic genetic genealogy, which combines DNA and genealogy, ultimately led the TBI to identify the victim as Nuchols. 

“Identifying a person in a case like this, in a homicide case is very important,” Elkins stated. “The more we know about the victim, the easier it is to understand who the killer is.” 

Now, this new technology is able to help them identify victims in other cases like this one across the state.

“We still want to get to that resolution for a family, for a community, whether that means getting that information we have and being able to do some sort of posthumous announcement about that case, but it doesn’t mean that we have to stop.” 

Since Nuchols has been identified, the TBI is asking for the community’s help to close this cold case.

The TBI said anyone with information about this murder, specifically any knowledge about individuals Mr. Nuchols may have been with before his death, is asked to call 1-800-TBI-FIND or email tips to

Nuchols is the fifth person in the TBI’s Unidentified Human Remains DNA Initiative to be named. In December, 2022, the TBI submitted 10 cases to Othram Inc., a private lab in Texas, for DNA extraction and sequencing.