The discovery was a common one for Coconino County.
A ranch hand rounding up cattle on the Hat Ranch about two miles northeast of Interstate 40 and the Welch Road interchange near Ash Fork found the bones.
The area is hilly, grassy and dotted with junipers -- cattle country.
The bones were on a hill about 200 yards from a dirt road and had been scattered about, likely the result of “animal activity,” according to the investigation. There was no apparent signs of trauma. Cause and manner of death were listed as “undetermined” -- although the Coconino County medical examiner at the time indicated the death was “suspicious, unusual or unnatural.”
The bones, found in March 1996, remain unidentified.
“Somehow, he ends up there dead,” said Chuck Jones, volunteer investigator for the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office cold case unit. “I don’t know how he dies. Nobody does.”
The cold case unit, which has been working cold cases since 2005, is currently trying to solve nearly 40 cold cases in the county like Hat Ranch Doe.
According to the autopsy report and subsequent forensic study of the bones, the bones belong to a man, Caucasian, 5 feet, 6 inches to 5 feet, 10 inches tall, 45 to 55 years of age at the time of death.
There was extensive dental work done on the teeth.
In life, the man had a gray beard and brown hair. He had died one and a half to three years prior to the bones being discovered. Along with the bones, investigators logged additional items into evidence: Blue jeans, blue and white plaid cotton short, size 10 “Cole Haan” deck shoes, bifocal eyeglasses, a green tooth brush, black comb, disposable razor, fingernail clippers, a military-style can opener and change.
In one of the shoes, investigators found a flier for the Fireside Grill & Bar in Williams. The flier, for off-track betting, had been used from July 1993 to October 1993. A telephone number hand-written on the flier was for the Calvary Hogan Mission near Seligman. The mission caters to people passing through and did not have records of guests for 1993.
The clothes had been burnt, and investigators confirmed that a controlled burn had been conducted in the area in the fall of 1995.
Jones said the man had been in Williams before he died, and was probably on his way west when he died. The investigation in 1996 did not turn up any leads as to the man’s identity.
Other bodies have been discovered in the same general area, Jones said.
One of those bodies, an unknown man whose body was found near Sevens Ranch, whose case sat in the cold case files since 1995, was identified in 2010 through a DNA match submitted by the cold case unit. Another body, found near Gold Trap Ranch in 1988, remains unidentified. All of the bodies belonged to men, and all of the remains were found in remote locations not very far from Ash Fork.
“They’re not next to a road, and you have to ride a horse or walk,” Jones said.
When asked about any possible significance or correlation, Jones said he did not want to speculate.
“It’s just odd,” Jones said. “It’s very bizarre.”
Investigators attempted to identify the man through the dental work, and Jones said a DNA profile was developed from the remains. The information has been listed with the Doe Network, and the DNA profile has been placed in a national database in the hopes that a family member of Hat Ranch Doe submits a DNA sample for comparison. Meanwhile, the bones remain unidentified.
If anybody has information about this case, contact the sheriff’s office cold case division at 774-4523, or visit the cold case Facebook page.