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Towson students help police uncover new clues in John Doe case

Maryland Mysteries: The Bones in the Brush
Posted at 5:39 PM, Nov 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-12 13:12:27-05

Maryland Natural Resources Police say after two years, they still don't know who they found on the grounds at Cunningham Falls State Park. 

Detectives were only able to piece together a few remains of a young man considered to be a John Doe. 

Sometimes to solve a cold case, you have to go back to the basics -- or in this case, back to school. 

"It's like looking for a needle in a haystack and so we've learned as we've gone along that there have to be parameters on the areas that we're searching," Dana Kollmann, a professor at Towson University, said. 

She's a forensic science professor at Towson University.

Armed with more than a decade of working with Baltimore County Police's homicide unit, she's using her experience to teach the next generation of forensic experts. 

"The other thing that I know is that when students go for job interviews, they can say -- this is huge -- Baltimore City is just sucking up Towson students, Baltimore County's crime lab is taking students because on their resume they don't just say 'I studied forensics,' they've actually done it," Kollmann said. 

Most recently, to sift through Cunningham Falls State Park in Thurmont -- on a mission to help Maryland Natural Resources Police identify that John Doe. 

In 2016, a hunter found skeletal remains, but the bones collected weren't enough to properly identify who the man was and investigators have had little luck finding more clues until now. 

"We found multiple skeletal elements. We found a mandible, several teeth, ribs, vertebrae; all identified as the guy who went missing up on the board," Kollmann said. 

"These are Hail Mary passes and we're hoping to connect again," Candy Thompson, the then-spokeswoman for the state natural resources police, said. 

A sketch artist was able to put together this -- a young man in his late teens to early 20's. The students at Towson, with the help of a few cadaver dogs, were able to find even more remains -- more than 25 bones, including teeth that may help shed new light on who the man is. 

"It's kind of frustrating to not find all of him, obviously you want to be able to find as much of him as you can, but even finding some of him brings back pieces of his story," Kira Piccone, a junior in Kollman's forensic science club, said. 

Piecing together chapters and ultimately the ending of the story of how this John Doe died, and why after so long, no one has identified. 

"I'm even more motivated when we have a vibrant young 18 to 20 year old guy who, to this day, doesn't have a name. I don't understand how that can happen," Kollman said.