Remains of a young man that were discovered 38 years ago have now been identified as a missing football player whose family has been desperately searching for him for decades.
Redgrave Research Forensic Service, a forensics services company based out of Massachusetts, has identified the victim through DNA as William Joseph “Bill” Lewis, 19. Known as a John Doe for decades, Lewis’ skeletal remains were found on a farm not far from the Indiana city of Rensselaer in 1983. Investigators determined at the time that he had been killed at least one year prior; his identification was announced Thursday by authorities.
The remains have long been linked to serial killer Larry Eyler, a man who claimed to have killed more than 20 young men across the Midwest. He confessed to killing the young man in 1994, the same year he died.
“He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Jasper County Coroner Andy Boersma said of the teenager in a Monday phone call with Oxygen.com. His office has had the case for nearly 22 years when Bryan Worters, a senior intern at Redgrave and forensic genealogist approached him earlier this year. Worters expressed interest in identifying Lewis as well as two other John Does connected to the serial murderer. Another one of Eyler’s unidentified victims, a teenager known as “Adam” to investigators, is currently undergoing forensic genealogy research, Worters told Oxygen.com on Monday via phone.
Worters, who led a team of 12 on the project, said that Redgrave put Lewis’ DNA profile into GEDmatch and within six days found a candidate. The DNA and genetic research pointed the team to a family which had proof of life for all siblings except one: Lewis. After Lewis' sister provided her DNA, the team was able to make the identification.
Worters, who is also a research assistant for the Fall Line podcast, says that Lewis’ family — he had seven siblings — is both heartbroken yet relieved to finally at least know what happened to their loved one.
“His family is absolutely heartbroken that they are finding out these answers now,” he said. “They have expressed that they are finally starting to grieve. This family really missed him and really cared for him and really loved him.”
Worters noted that Lewis’ mother, who has since passed away, “cherished him so much” and made it her dying wish to locate her son. In the early 1990s, she even wrote a letter to “Unsolved Mysteries” asking for help.
“I don't know if he is alive or dead,” the letter, shared with Oxygen.com this week, states. “If I just knew something, I could put my mind at ease. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don't think about him. Since Bill disappeared, I have had an empty hole in my life.”
Lewis was a student-athlete who played high school football in Peru, Indiana and is remembered as protective and loving. He was last seen alive at a friend’s funeral in Texas.
“To be able to restore his identity after nearly four decades, it’s what his family deserves,” Worters told Oxygen.com.