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Troopers Reopen 1996 Cold Case of Body Found along Highway

HANOVER TOWNSHIP -- State troopers are reopening a cold case from 1996 when a body was found along Interstate 80 near White Haven.

The person was never identified and the district attorney calls the death "an extremely suspicious death."

Investigators hope new forensic technology can shine some light onto this decades-old case.

Investigators say this man was buried more than 20 years ago with speculations swirling around his death, but with new science, they're hoping to put those questions to rest.

The buzz of a backhoe disrupted what is usually a peaceful resting place for those at Maple Hill Cemetery in Hanover Township.

State police partnered with a forensic anthropologist from the University of South Florida to exhume the man's remains and get to the bottom of the case.

Investigators hope to unearth some of the answers into a man's suspicious death by throwing everything science has to offer at the case.

"We'll look at what we call a bioprofile, so age, sex, ancestry, stature. We'll also do what we call isotope testing, trying to see if this individual was from here or were they non-local to the area," said forensic anthropologist Kelsee Hentschel-Fey.

The man was buried for more two decades after troopers found his partially decomposing body on a blanket on the side of Interstate 80 westbound in Dennison Township, near the White Haven exit in September of 1996.

Right now, investigators don't know much about him but they're hoping forensic tests narrow down his age range.

"That's very hard for police to investigate when you say this person is, say 25, 40. So if there's any way that we can narrow down an age range, that can really help with investigations," said Hentschel-Fey.

These tests can reveal everything from what the man looked like to whether he lived in the area all of which is incredibly valuable to police.

"Once we identify the real person, that's when the real investigation starts, when we find out who the victim is, associates, and then start from there," said Trooper Shawn Williams.

Troopers also exhumed the remains of four other people at the center of cold cases in Luzerne County last September. They say they feel closer to answers than ever before in one of those cases.

"It's looking very promising that one of the individuals from the exhumation from last year, they may be identified. But we're still in the process of completing a few more processes," said Williams.

Investigators also plan on making a facial reconstruction of the unidentified man which could help his family identify him.

"People might be able to identify their loved one, assuming that over time they haven't changed that much," said Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce.

Officials say they're hopeful this exhumation will give them some answers because his remains were buried when, oftentimes, unidentified cold case bodies are cremated which destroys valuable DNA evidence.

"One of the things we're working on with the help of Pennsylvania State Police is getting uniform legislation passed in the commonwealth, giving guidelines on how police departments should handle these types of investigations, in other words, what kind of samples to take what to do with them, entering them into a database," Sanguedolce explained.

Officials say time is still of the essence.

"While the technology has greatly advanced to the point where we're now hopeful of getting DNA, even eight years ago, we were not hopeful, the problem then is, of course, then witnesses that might know anything can die or disappear," said Sanguedolce.

Police are not giving us a time frame on when they hope to get results from this exhumation.

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