Scioto River John Doe 1996

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On August 1, 1996, a human skull was discovered in the Scioto River behind the correctional institution in Chillicothe, Ohio. Analysis of the skull found it to be from a man, but no other information could be determined.

NamUs ID: UP91208

Date Body Found: August 1, 1996

Race: Uncertain

Sex: Male

Estimated Age: Unknown

Estimated PMI: Unknown

Agency of Jurisdiction: 

Office of the Coroner, Ross County, Ohio
Mike Ratliff
[email protected]

More Information:



Doe-Nate Fund Goal: 


This case was funded by our generous donors who joined our mission to resolve cases of unidentified remains using investigative genetic genealogy.

The DNA Doe Project, a trailblazing non-profit organization dedicated to using investigative genetic genealogy to identify John and Jane Does, is pleased to announce the resolution of the case of Scioto River John Doe 1996. Working in partnership with the Ross County Office of the Coroner,  the DNA Doe Project has successfully identified the previously unidentified individual as Ward Raymond Thomas, born in 1918 in Muskingum County, Ohio.

Ward Raymond Thomas

Ward Raymond Thomas, aged 54 at the time of his disappearance, vanished from a Veteran’s Medical facility in Chillicothe, Ohio in 1972. It would be 24 years before his skull was located in the Scioto River in the same area.

In 2022, investigators with the Ross County Office of the Coroner brought the cold case to the DNA Doe Project, hoping that investigative genetic genealogy would be able to finally find this man’s identity. They had obtained a grant to help fund the thousands of dollars of lab costs needed to develop a DNA profile suitable to upload to the databases used by law enforcement for this work – GEDmatch Pro and FTDNA. Despite being found in water, a circumstance notorious for contaminating and degrading DNA, a bone sample obtained from the skull yielded a workable profile and the team of volunteer investigators got to work in November, 2023. It took less than two weeks of work to connect a handful of second and third cousins in a family tree, leading to Ward Thomas’s branch.

“Initially, we thought we could be looking for someone who was born in the 1850s because of a strong match being related in more ways than one. However, it was his dentures which helped us know he was born and lived in the mid twentieth century,” said team leader Eric Hendershott. “It was unusual for the team to discover legal posting about his absence, which led to records showing he had been declared deceased after being missing. That’s not something we see too often.”

“The identification was made on Thanksgiving day. Being able to have a name and locate older newspaper articles about his disappearance on a day to be thankful for family to be able to gather was very meaningful,” said team leader Julie Bracker. “We are also thankful that distant relatives who didn’t even know about Ward took the time to upload their DNA data to”

Investigative genetic genealogy work generates a lead which is provided to investigators working in law enforcement and coroner/medical examiners offices. Confirmation of the lead can take several months to years depending on the availability of dental records and DNA from close family members.

The DNA Doe Project is grateful to the groups and individuals who helped solve this case: the Ross County Office of the Coroner, who entrusted the case to the DNA Doe Project; Astrea Forensics for sample prep and whole-genome sequencing; Kevin Lord for bioinformatics; GEDmatch Pro and FTDNA for providing their databases; and DDP’s dedicated teams of volunteer investigative genetic genealogists who work tirelessly to bring all our Jane and John Does home.


Last Updated: March 13, 2024

Posted on

March 8, 2023