Rutherford County detectives run new DNA test to find family of man set on fire in La Vergne

Unsolved Tennessee

One cold case solved, as another becomes more mysterious.  

A rare DNA match last month identified remains found in Florida more than 40 years ago. The remains were those of James Sanders from Tennessee. A man last seen by relatives in 1978.    

But for years, there were questions of whether Sanders’ remains belonged to a John Doe found burning at a Middle Tennessee campground in La Vergne in 1978.    

“[After a] press release in 2014, we received a phone call. A man thinking that the John Doe in our case maybe his brother,” said Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office Detective Richard Brinkley, who is investigating the case.  

James Sanders remains found in Florida more than four decades after he went missing. PHOTO: RCSO

A DNA test showed John Doe’s remains were not Sanders’. Something hard to believe for both family and detectives until recently.     

“Subsequently, years later, Florida is working a John Doe homicide case, and they submit some items for testing to get DNA results. And those results identified James Sanders,” Brinkley said.  

Begging the question: who was the man discovered so brutally murdered in La Vergne? 

“The John Doe in our case was found at Pool Knobs Campground in August of 1978. He’s the victim of a homicide. He had been shot, was set on fire, and left there,” Brinkley said.  

Forty-three years later, detectives are making yet another attempt to identify him. 

“We are working with a company called Othram out of Texas – that’s working on some DNA for us,” Brinkley said. “They have extracted DNA and were able to develop a profile and are now working to find potential family members.” 

With how far DNA technology has come along with the other cold case recently solved, Detective Brinkley has a renewed hope in getting justice for John Doe and reuniting him with his loved ones.

“There’s no statute of limitations on a homicide, and we work them until we’ve exhausted everything. And this one’s not solved. But, we’re going to keep pushing forward,” he said.  

The Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office stressed they are looking for anyone who could possibly be related to this John Doe. Anyone who may have a relative who went missing around that time is asked to contact Brinkley at rbrinkley@rcsotn.org or at 615-904-3045.

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