BETHLEHEM — Police are encouraging the public to help identify a man whose body was found on a horse farm near the Elm Avenue Park in Delmar almost 40 years ago.
Based on evidence from the scene, the man disappeared shortly after New Year’s Day of 1981. Ronald Reagan had yet to be sworn into his first term as president. The body of the unnamed man, however, would not be found until spring.
The partially decomposed remains were discovered on Apr. 3, 1981 in the farm’s wooded area by property owner Frank Vadney who has since died. Besides the man’s identity, police still don’t know certain critical information like when and how he died, where he came from and what he was doing in the area.
He was described as a white male, probably between 30 and 45 years old (the original 1981 investigation theorized he was between 30 and 60 years old), weighed between 210 and 230 pounds, and was around 6 feet tall. He wore a plaid Van Heusen shirt with brown, blue, yellow and red lines; an olive-pea green jacket with a front zipper and fur-lined hood; white jockey-style shorts in size 44-46; a size 44-black belt with a $10 price tag; and Moccasin loafer-style shoes.
He was discovered with copies of the Jan. 1, 1981 Spotlight News and Ravena News-Herald newspapers; small ripped up spiral notebook pages which had phone numbers of numerous churches, the Capital District Transportation Authority and local stores; and remnants of a bus ticket that was not legible.
Bethlehem Police Cmdr. Adam Hornick noted how the newspaper copies were from January, how the body was found in April, how it had been in a wooded area away from public access and where animal activity was pronounced. “We’re thinking that the man died in January but we don’t have an exact date and we don’t know,” he said. “The reason the owner found the body was that in that winter, a tree fell on his property and took down a fence. So soon as the first signs of spring came, he went outside to repair that fence and found the body.”
Later that same month, the man was buried as a John Doe in a pauper’s grave at Graceland Cemetery in Albany.
Hornick said his department had only two sheets of paper on the case at the time and all other information, including photos of the deceased man, were allegedly lost in a flood at the Town Hall’s basement sometime in the 1990s.
But in 2013, the department began gathering more information to rebuild the case for the modern day, with the help of the Albany County Coroner’s Office, New York State Police and the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
A major breakthrough occurred in 2017 where Hornick said his department noticed that the man’s jaw bones were labeled as “available,” as written on the records, but it was not in their custody. The records also listed the name of the dentist, Dr. Alan Rosell, who did the original dental analysis of the jaw bones in 1981. An investigation determined that Rosell retired a decade ago and moved to Arizona but his practice still retains its same location in Saratoga County.
After reaching out to the practice, Hornick said, “Luckily, a lady answered the phone and knew what we were talking about and knew the doctor had done cases like this for local law enforcement. She said that there was a box in their basement which may have some helpful information for us but because we don’t know the man’s name, we didn’t know how to match which box that would’ve been ours to look at.”
Turns out there was a box labeled, “Albany County: Mr. X” which had a number. Hornick said the woman read him this number and he realized it was the same one as the man’s case number from the Coroner’s Office. “We went and picked up the bones. So for the last 36-and-a-half years, those bones sat in the basement of the dentist’s office,” he said.
When asked why they had been left there for so long, Hornick said he was not sure although he suspected that the police dropped the jaw bones off at the dental practice for analysis “but, for some reason, they were never picked up.”
The department reviewed the bones with a New York State Police forensic odontologist that confirmed they were a direct match to the dental chart from the case’s original paperwork. The bones showed possible evidence of military-style fillings and appeared to have received regular dental care.
The bones were sent to the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner and the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification in late 2017 and early 2018 to try and get a DNA profile — this process takes a long time as the bones are old.
In early 2019, Bethlehem police heard back from them and a DNA profile was generated. Since then, they have been trying to use familial DNA — this can compare the DNA sample to people who are related to the person — to identify the man.
“However, our biggest concern is that this happened in 1981 — that’s 38 and a half years ago,” Hornick said. “If we’re not able to identify a relation to the deceased man within the next five to 10 years, the likelihood of that ever happening goes down drastically and maybe next to impossible.”
Bethlehem police have continued to conduct interviews and even reached out to its former officers, some of whom have since died, who had handled the case in 1981.
“We’re publicizing the case more now because the holidays are a time where people remember a lost loved one,” Hornick concluded. “The man has family and relations out there and our goal is to find those people. Raising the awareness around the holidays could help.”
Anyone with information can contact Bethlehem police at 518-439-9973 and to learn more about the cold case, visit www.namus.gov/UnidentifiedPersons/Case#/15545.