NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — While investigators are working to solve several cold cases in the Nashville area, there are some instances where, despite their best efforts, the victims have remained nameless.
In these instances, there are often few leads to pursue, leading the case to grow cold. However, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), determining their identities could be key to understanding the circumstances behind their disappearances and deaths.
Not only can the public play a vital role in providing tips, but over the last several years, law enforcement agencies like the TBI have seen measurable success in submitting skeletal remains of unidentified individuals for forensic genetic genealogy testing.
Just this year, the TBI has been able to identify previously unknown victims in multiple cases dating back as far as the 1980s through its Unidentified Human Remains DNA Initiative. In Nashville, the cases range from as early as last year to 1976.
Detectives have developed sketches of many of the people in hopes that someone might recognize them, with the Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD) recently releasing a sketch of an unknown woman found dead in an abandoned house the night of Nov. 26, 2020.
Those cases can be found in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUS), which maintains a database, and provides technology, forensic services, and investigative support to resolve missing person and unidentified remains cases.
Below is a list of just some of the cold cases where efforts remain ongoing to identify the victims. Anyone who recognizes them from a sketch or description is asked to contact the MNPD’s Cold Case Unit at 615-862-7803.
January 2, 2022
On Jan. 2, 2022, an unknown man was found unresponsive in the parking lot of Jackie Murphy’s Used Cars on Lafayette Street. The Nashville Fire Department and EMS responded and confirmed he was dead.
Authorities said he had died from heart disease and hypothermia. It’s unknown when he was last seen alive. He was taken to the Davidson County Medical Examiner’s Office, but according to NamUS, his identity remains a mystery.
The man had no ID on him and could not be identified through fingerprints. Staff at the Nashville Rescue Mission were also unable to identify him, according to police.
He appeared to have been between 45 and 60 years old and had short black and gray hair, a trimmed black and gray beard and mustache. He also weighed 209 pounds and was 6-feet, 1-inch tall.
Investigators said the man had scars on his right leg over the knee and shin. The skin on his left knee was also hyperpigmented. At the time of his death, he was wearing a gray t-shirt, cargo pants and black socks.
November 26, 2020
A woman was found dead inside an abandoned house located off of Highway 70 on the night of Nov. 26, 2020. A 911 call was placed around 7:57 p.m. and Nashville firefighters and police responded to the scene.
Investigators believe the woman may have overdosed at the house. However, her name has still not been uncovered. She appeared to be in her 20s; was 5-feet 4-inches tall; weighed about 225 pounds; and had reddish-brown, wavy hair and brown eyes.
One specific identifying factor is a tattoo of a red heart above a comma forming a semicolon on her left wrist. She was also wearing a set of white metal stud earrings with a clear stone in each earlobe when she was found.
September 8, 2018
A 911 call was placed on Sept. 8, 2018, after a woman’s body was found alongside Sulphur Creek Road. When her body was found, police said it was already in an advanced stage of decomposition.
Forensic analysis determined the woman was Black and possibly Hispanic. She was likely between 5 feet and 5-feet, 5-inches tall with black, curly hair. Her estimated age range is between 15 and 25 years old.
Due to the condition of her body, the Medical Examiner was unable to determine a cause of death, but investigators said there was some evidence of a traffic accident or possible hit-and-run at the scene.
Police said she was wearing Vanderbilt University apparel, including a black Under Armor pullover hooded sweatshirt and ZooZatz brand black leggings that had the white Vanderbilt “V” inside the gold star in a wide-spread geometric pattern.
She was also wearing a ZooZatz brand black running hip band with the Vanderbilt logo; a white metal From the Heart brand necklace that appeared to have been missing a charm; a black undershirt; and white socks. Authorities said she wasn’t wearing shoes.
Police conducted a review of missing persons’ cases and also spoke with Vanderbilt University officials. Despite those efforts, no one matched the woman’s description.
January 25, 2018
On Jan. 25, 2018, skeletal remains were found by a transient atop a rocky cliff at exit 52 on Interstate 24 eastbound. A 911 call was placed around 10:36 p.m., and Nashville firefighters and police responded.
Authorities confirmed that the remains appeared to be human. The remains were consistent with a white male between 40 and 65 years old, with an estimated height of around 6-feet, 3-inches. However, the man’s identity remains unknown.
The man was wearing a heavily soiled T-shirt with a logo that read “redefining normal”; black pants; white tube socks with blue stripes; a blue Nike brand button-down jacket; Brown Dickies brand zip-up sweatshirt; and Gray Tony Hawk brand zip-up hooded sweatshirt.
A blue sleeping bag and gray cloth sack were also found near the remains. The case was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System on March 2, 2018.
February 19, 2017
Unidentified skeletal remains were discovered inside an abandoned building on Vashti Street on Feb. 19, 2017. An anthropology examination indicated the person was a male of mixed ancestry, possibly Caucasian and Japanese.
However, the remains were already partially decomposed when they were found. The man was likely between the ages of 40 and 65 years old with a stature of around 5-feet, 8-inches.
He was wearing a tan or brown canvas jacket, Blue button-down jacket with an “Astro Boats” logo on back, and Black Lee jeans. The case was entered into the NamUS database on Aug. 3, 2017.
December 8, 2010
On Dec. 8, 2010, a hunter came across a human skull about 30 yards off Pecan Valley Road near Highway 12. The hunter took the skull to his home and contacted the Metro Nashville Police Department.
However, according to NamUs, the person’s torso, limbs and hands were never recovered. There are very few identifying factors in the case, which largely remains a mystery.
It is suspected that the remains were that of an adult, but the possible age range is wide, with the person having been anywhere from 20 to 100 years old. Investigators believe the person was a male and was possibly Caucasian.
The case was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System on Aug. 16, 2017.
December 29, 2001
On Dec. 29, 2001, skeletal remains were found on an undeveloped strip of land that was part of airport property in the Donelson area near the end of Century Boulevard. Only partial skeletal parts were recovered.
The person is believed to have been an adult male between the ages of 35 and 60, and possibly Hispanic, American Indian or Alaska Native. He was likely about 5-feet, 9-inches tall and possibly had dark hair.
While the remains were found in 2001, investigators estimate he could have died sometime between 1998 and 2001. The only clothing found with the remains was a pair of brown Sketcher’s boots.
March 17, 1998
A tugboat captain reported seeing a body floating in the Cumberland River on March 17, 1998. A rescue squad responded and pulled the body of a partially clothed woman from the water at Harbor Marina and Cleese’s Ferry.
Authorities said she had been shot in the head twice. It’s believed she died only hours before she was found, but her identity is still shrouded in mystery, with all efforts to identify her turning up empty. She is known to many as only the “Cumberland River Jane Doe.”
The woman was likely between 45 and 55 years old; weighed about 167 pounds and was 5-feet, 2 inches tall. She had green eyes and wavy, light brown hair that was about 5 inches long. Police said she was wearing torn, black nylon pants with a Tweety Bird logo when she was found.
She also had on one white Reebok tennis shoe with a red trim and multiple pieces of jewelry. The jewelry included a gold necklace with a Gold Zodiac “LEO” emblem and two rings, one dark gray, the other a lighter gold.
A woman fitting her description was seen at a store on Music Valley Drive in Donelson with an unknown man the night before her body was found, but investigators have never been able to track down the man.
March 24, 1976
On March 24, 1976, a fisherman found a teen’s body in the Harpeth River about 200 yards from a bridge on McCrory Creek Road and downstream from a recreational area near the border of Cheatham County.
Authorities determined the female had died due to drowning, but it is unknown whether it was accidental or the result of a homicide. Several abrasions were found on her body that indicate she may have been held underwater.
Known as the “Harpeth River Jane Doe,” the girl was estimated to be around 14 to 17 years old with brown eyes and brown hair. She likely died just hours before her body was found, and had a stature of around 5-feet, 2-inches.
Other identifying factors included a mole on her left temple area; two surgical scars on her abdomen area; old scars, possibly cigarette burns on both arms; and an oddly positioned left “fang” tooth.
She was wearing a rawhide bracelet and a choker-type necklace with beads and a white dove. A blue blouse was discovered in the river the day after her body was found, but it’s unclear if it belonged to the girl.
She also had a black comb, one nickel and a photograph of a young blond-haired boy with “Little Charlie” and a phone number written on the back in the back pocket of her jeans.
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The phone number belonged to a Nashville man who told investigators he and his brother-in-law had seen the girl about 10 days before she was found in the river. He claimed they picked up the teen and her friend on Highway 24 as they were hitchhiking.
He also told police the two girls had run away from a mental hospital in Minnesota and were on their way to Florida. The men, who claimed they dropped the girls off at the Winchester exit, were never labeled suspects.
The teen’s female companion was described to be about the same age with sandy blonde hair, but she was never located or interviewed.