“We have narrowed our investigation to a missing person suspect,” Sheriff Chris Mathes said Wednesday afternoon. “We have not yet made a positive identification but are in the process of comparing dental records.”
Mathes said the missing person was a Carter County resident but declined to provide further details, including whether the person was male or female.
“We feel pretty confident about who it is, but we don’t have any proof yet,” Mathes said.
The sheriff said he was reluctant to provide further information until the dental records have been checked and until forensic experts at the University of Tennessee’s Body Farm have examined the remains. Mathes said the body would be sent to UT later Wednesday.
Mathes said it appeared the skeleton had been there “for multiple years.” He said there was vegetation growing around the remains and the few personal effects that indicates the body had been at the site for several growing seasons.
He also said his investigators found no obvious evidence of foul play, but no forensic expert had yet examined the skeleton.
Reports of the discovery have already spurred interest from several families in the region who have missing persons. Mathes said he has already been contacted about missing persons in Greeneville and Bristol.
“I know there are families who are suffering and are looking for closure. We are working diligently to identify the person we found and to be certain of our identification,” Mathes said.
The body was found Tuesday by John Neth, the property owner of the land where the body was found. Neth was walking his property line and found the remains in a wooded section. Mathes complimented Neth for leaving the remains undisturbed and promptly calling authorities.
The sheriff’s department received the call around 3 p.m. The area was quickly secured by patrol officers. Mathes said it was decided to remove all the remains as quickly as possible because bad weather was forecast for Wednesday, and the location where the body was uncovered was on a slope, which meant it could be scattered by running water and by gravity.
The recovery team worked from 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to recover all of the remains. The team included Mathes, Chief Deputy Ron Street, four investigators with the CCSD’s Criminal Investigation Division, two agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and a three-man forensics team from the Johnson City Police Department.