When the funeral director was cleaning out the attic of the old Flagstaff Mortuary on Oak Avenue in May 2001, he came across a crate.
The crate was old. Nobody at the mortuary knew how it got there. The mortuary has been used as the county medical examiner site until 1974 and could have been left over when the medical examiner’s operations moved.
There was no casket in the crate, but there was a skeleton and some clothing. The skeleton belonged to a teenaged boy.
Flagstaff police made efforts to try to identify the remains, to track down the old mortuary owner, find out where the crate came from. No luck.
The skeleton was buried in the pauper portion of Citizens Cemetery.
Fast forward nearly a decade. Detective Casey Rucker recieved the case as part of an audit to purge old information from the National Criminal Information Center. The identity of the skeleton was still a mystery.
“So, I started tearing the case apart, wondering, ‘What’s going on here?’” Rucker said. “There was work that could be done.”
Then, an old county case on a missing California man, Michael Griffin, piqued the interest that the skeleton could belong to Griffin, who went missing with his girlfriend, Donnis “Pinky” Redman in the late 1950s. Redman’s body has not been found.
After a Coconino County Superior Court judge granted the request, the bones were exhumed in 2010 for testing.
“We had a moral obligation to do this,” Rucker said.
The burial had been done cheaply. The casket had collapsed under the weight of the earth above. The skull had been shattered.
The skull, jaw, teeth and a femur were sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Rucker said.
With assistance from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the police department conducted DNA testing and the DNA from the bones was compared with DNA from the Griffin family.
It was not a match. The skeleton was not Griffin. But the DNA sample was placed into several national law enforcement and missing person databases.
Additionally, a full chart was made of the skeleton’s teeth. A composite was made of the skull.
The bones remain unidentified.
“This file is as to-date as we could make it,” Rucker said. “We were able to fulfill our obligation with this guy ... Maybe there’s something down the road we can do.”
The bones have not been reburied for easier access to future testing innovations, Rucker added.
“I’m always hopeful,” Rucker said. “The only thing I know for sure is if we do nothing, we’ll stay in the status quo. But if we keep moving forward, we stand a chance, right?”
Residents who might have information as to the skeleton’s identity are asked to contact Det. Casey Rucker at (928) 679-4099, or visit the county’s Cold Case unit’s Facebook page.