KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — DNA Doe Project is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to solving cases. The nonprofit, all-volunteer, genetic genealogy team helps law enforcement solve their most difficult investigations that involved unidentified people.
“It is our commitment that no Jane or John Doe remain unnamed due to the inability of a community to afford the laboratory work, bioinformatics, or skilled genealogy necessary to identify them,” the organization’s website promises.
The organization uses funding for supervision, tools and infrastructure to do the work, and to cover the expensive lab costs involved in extracting and sequencing DNA from remains whenever a qualifying agency is unable to afford them, according to the Doe Project’s website.
“It’s gut-wrenching at times, these are very, very sensitive cases, there are a lot of emotions around solving a case, both on our end and obviously the family’s end. It is taxing physically because most of us sit up most hours of the night researching these cases. It is all worthwhile whether it takes years or whether it takes a day,” said Gina Wrather, team lead with DNA Doe Project.
WATE 6 spoke with Wrather this week after her team announced they had uncovered the identity of a Knoxville man whose remains were found in a golf bag at Douglas Lake in Sevier County, Tennessee. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said the case is a homicide investigation.
The DNA Doe Project‘s DNA investigators are working to identify several other people whose remains have been found in East Tennessee and Kentucky. Here are several cases they are investigating:
In 2007, a police officer found partial skeletal human remains in a remote area off Hollandale Road in LaVergne. Investigators found no clothing but they found jewelry like two bracelets and a gold-plated ring with stones.
A forensic scientist believes the remains may have been a Black or White female about 5’5″ to 5’6″ tall between 25-49 years old.
In 2006, some hunters found a body of an unidentified white male in the wooded area along Eldridge Road near Chickamauga Lake in Birchwood. He was reportedly wearing a grey t-shirt with a Tom and Jerry cartoon logo, Arizona-brand blue jeans, white tennis shoes and a bandana. He looked to be between 40-55 years old with missing teeth.
They found the death to be a homicide.
A woman found a suspicious object that turned out to be the body of a man in 2003. The woman was riding her bike through Riverfront Park in Kingsport when she reported that an object was in Holston river.
He would be identified as Jerry David Holbert of Charleston, West Virginia.
His body was found about 20 yards offshore. The local forensic teams found that the body was in the river for seven to 10 days and was believed to have drowned. The body has been revealed to be a White male about 6′ tall, weighed 180 lbs and around 40-80 years old.
Forensic scientists only had a BB&T bank envelope in his pocket containing $267 to try to I.D. the man.
A survey crew said they found partially skeletonized remains of a White woman in the northbound lane of Interstate 65 which was about 12 miles north of the Kentucky-Tennessee state line.
The body was identified as Dawn Clare Wilkerson who was 45 at the time of her death.
Forensics found that Wilkerson died two to eight weeks prior before being discovered.
Wilkerson reportedly had wavy, long reddish-blond hair, 25-35 years old and 5’6″ tall. She had several missing teeth, healed fractures on the upper right arm and rib and a scar on her face and right wrist. She also had a rose tattoo on her chest.
On the ground near her were two rings, one of them seemed looked similar to a wedding ring.
Two hunters reportedly said they found human skeletal remains in the wooded area two miles from Joe Brown Road off Highway 99 East in Maury County. The remains were found with a red shell blouse, flowered blue slacks, female undergarments and black Italian-made wedge shoes.
After some forensic analysis, they found that the remains were of a Black/African American female who was between 15-25 years old, about 5’4″ tall, weighing about 132 lbs with black hair. There’s a possibility that she may have been in a car accident or hit-and-run in 1974.
To upload or compare DNA test results, visit gedmatch.com.
Authorities say nearly 400 people go missing in Tennessee each year. That’s five people for every 100,000. Check this list of people missing from East Tennessee to see if you can help locate someone.