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USF anthropologist to help exhume unidentified St. Petersburg murder victims

ST. PETERSBURG — They are the coldest of cold cases, murders committed decades ago. But when authorities exhume the bodies of three victims next week, it won't be in a last-ditch effort to finally solve their murders.

Instead, their graves will be reopened in the hopes that those victims can finally be identified.

That's why University of South Florida forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle will be helping the St. Petersburg Police Department and the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office unearth the bodies at Memorial Park cemetery on Wednesday.

Kimmerle is an expert in helping law enforcement identify skeletonized remains.

"If we can identify these individuals and bring closure to their families," police Chief Chuck Harmon said, "then I certainly think that's something we should do."

All three victims are buried at Memorial Park cemetery at 54th Avenue N and 49th Street. The general manager, John Bunnell, has agreed to exhume the bodies at the cemetery's expense.

In the days leading to the exhumation, investigators will use ground-penetrating sonar to pinpoint the graves. Then on Wednesday, they'll start digging them up.

Then investigators will collect DNA samples from the bodies to be submitted to the FBI lab matching against the National Missing Persons DNA database.

Since 2001, the database has been indexing DNA from biological relatives of missing persons, the missing themselves and unidentified human remains.

Here are the cases police will re-examine:

• An unidentified white woman, 30 to 35 years of age, was found Oct. 31, 1969, dressed in a "flimsy green nightgown," according to The Evening Independent. She was wrapped in plastic and left inside a steamer trunk beneath a tree near the old Oyster Bar Restaurant near 4200 34th St. S. The woman was beaten and strangled. She was about 5 feet 9 and 130 pounds. There were no suspects in her death. St. Petersburg police Sgt. Bill Carlisle told the Independent that whoever killed her may have wanted her to be found.

• A white teenage girl, reportedly named Maria, who was shoved into the path of an oncoming vehicle during an argument with Lawrence Edward Dorn on June 9, 1973. The girl, who was 14 to 17 years old, reportedly had been in town only a few weeks and was from the Carolinas. Dorn was charged with manslaughter, but the case was later dropped for reasons that could not be determined Thursday.

• Two men shot to death in Room 15 of the Siesta Motel at 701 34th St. N on April 26, 1980. One victim was identified as Jack Roy Davis, 40, of Knoxville, Tenn. The other never was identified. Police had a suspect in the case, a 39-year-old Tennessee man named Kyle Coy "Cowboy" Watson, according to St. Petersburg Times archives. But he was gunned down by his girlfriend four months after the murders.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

USF anthropologist to help exhume unidentified St. Petersburg murder victims 02/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 4, 2010 11:01pm]

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