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Two ranchhands were following a truckload of pigs out by Meteor Crater.

The area is open desert where big skies prevail.

The two men went to round up a wayward pig and, in doing so, stumbled across a skeleton. They called authorities.

That was April 19, 1975. The identity of the man, likely murdered, is still unknown.

“He was actually kind of mummified,” said Joe Sumner, volunteer for the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office cold case unit.

The cold case unit is trying to solve nearly 40 cold cases in the county like the case of “White Male Adult” from 1975. Sumner, who retired from the National Park Service in 2007 as a criminal investigator, came onto the cold case unit in 2008.

Sumner added that although most of the man’s body was just bones, a leg and a foot remained intact.

“It was always treated as a homicide because of the circumstances,” Sumner said.

There was no evidence to indicate how he got there. The scene had nothing other than bones, a shirt and a pair of boxer shorts.

The body looks as if it had been dumped, or the man had died right there.

SERIAL KILLING?

The case had an interesting development. A serial killer named Thomas Eugene Creech, who is in prison in Idaho, confessed to killing a man in the general area. He made statements that were inconsistent with the evidence, Sumner said, and was ruled out as a suspect in the man’s death. Although he said he had shot a man in a T-shirt and boxer shorts about the age of the victim, Creech’s girlfriend, who testified against him at trial, denied Creech committed a murder in Arizona.

Although a few cases to which Creech confessed were confirmed, a majority of them were not, Sumner said.

“The general consensus among the law enforcement agencies was that he was bragging,” Sumner added.

MISSING PERSON

The case is at the top of the cold case unit’s list right now because the unit was recently contacted by the St. Claire County Sheriff’s Office out of Port Huron, Mich. Sumner said the mother of a man missing since Christmas 1974 asked that her son’s case be reopened.

Kenneth Dean Smith went missing in Arizona. He had sent a letter to his mother, who is now 96, from the Grand Canyon. He was looking for work in Arizona and was planning to head south.

Sumner said that in going through the files, Smith was ruled out as a possible victim in the 1970s, but a DNA sample from the body was booked into evidence. Smith’s mother and sister have provided DNA samples for comparison.

“We want to confirm with the DNA,” Sumner said, adding that it will probably be a couple of months until the results are available.

Sumner has a photo of Smith, and he said that although the body, when it was found, had longer hair than Smith’s photo, Smith is wearing a shirt in the photo similar to the shirt the victim was wearing when the ranchhands found the body.

DNA EVIDENCE

“What it shows needs to be done in these old cases, and is extremely difficult to do, is get DNA from these remains,” Sumner said.

Additionally, DNA samples from surviving family members need to be secured and placed into national databases for comparisons with DNA samples from missing people.

Problematic, Sumner added, is that people who went missing in the 19070s and ‘80s typically don’t have DNA samples in the databases.

“That’s the problem we have with these old cases,” Sumner said.

If anybody has information about this case, contact the sheriff’s office cold case division at 774-4523, or visit the Facebook page.

Larry Hendricks can be reached at 556-2262 or lhendricks@azdailysun.com.

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