Updated: Jan 19, 2021
LOCATION: FLORENCE, KY
DATE: NOVEMBER 16, 2004
EVENT: DISCOVERY OF HUMAN REMAINS
At about 12:20 pm on November 16, 2004 police were dispatched to the scene of a gruesome discovery. Two Public Works Officers for the city of Florence had literally stumbled upon human remains. The workers were inspecting storm drains just off the Southbound lane of
I-75 in Florence, Kentucky near the St. Elizabeth's hospital property when one of the workers spotted a human skull. The rest of the human remains were located inside a pair of blue nylon overalls. The overalls had acted as a body bag, preserving bones and other clues. Investigators originally believed the unidentified man to be homeless but clues found at the scene said otherwise.
An anthropological exam was conducted by then Kentucky State Forensic Anthropologist Dr. Emily Craig and a report of her findings was made available just a few weeks later in December of 2004. Dr. Craig determined the skeletal remains were that of a Caucasian male age 45-65, who had suffered previous injuries to his head, rib, and nose and who had likely had open chest/open heart surgery. Where the rib cage would have been Dr. Craig found six wires which were consistent with someone who had undergone open chest/heart surgery. In addition, the unidentified male had lower back arthritis and brown wavy hair. The post mortem interval was determined to be in the range of 24 months to ten years.
Remarkably, a mouse’s nest inside the skull had preserved pieces of hair and some filtered cigarette butts, providing possible sources of DNA. There was one other thing Dr. Craig was able to tell investigators: the unidentified victim had met with foul play. Police were looking at a homicide. Investigators were up against one of the most difficult types of investigations: an unidentified victim of a violent crime at unknown hands.
In addition to the bones found at the scene, several personal items were recovered as well. Though the victim had no wallet nor ID on him, a hotel key card and a single metal key were retrieved from the pockets of the overalls. Near the remains investigators also found a rusted key ring with three keys and a movie club membership card. You can see those items pictured below. The investigators noted that the name patch part of the pocket of the overalls had been cut off, perhaps in an effort to conceal the identity of the victim.
UNRAVELING A MYSTERY:
Florence Police Detective Walt Cooley spear-headed the investigation, determined to find out the identity of the victim. Information was released to the public via the news media in hopes of generating leads. The police were soon inundated with calls from family members from all over the country with missing loved ones. Detective Cooley spoke of the weight of those calls in an interview, remarking how heartbreaking it was to know there were so many so desperate for answers.
Not far into the investigation, police were presented with a confession. They had been careful however to leave out critical information regarding case details and were subsequently able to determine the confession was not valid. Detective Cooley continued to pore through missing persons reports and systematically eliminated possible matches while chasing down other clues.
It was determined that the hotel key card found with the human remains belonged to a Best Western Hotel in Florence, Ky. Police hit a dead end when it was determined to be too old to be matched with any records, having long ago been deleted from the system. However, Detective Cooley noticed a brown smear on the key card, barely visible to the naked eye. Tests showed it to be human blood but in a devastating blow, the samples were too disintegrated to be of any forensic value. The video card also seemed to be a dead end after being traced back to a video rental store in Ohio which was no longer in business.
Then Detective Cooley came across a missing persons report from 1996. A family from Louisville, Kentucky had reported their elderly father Otha Young, Jr, a 65 year old Alzheimer's patient, missing on October 10th, 1996. He had signed himself out of hospital care and was upset that his family wanted him to remain hospitalized. As the disagreement heated up, Otha left the residence and drove away in his car, a Ford, on October 9th, 1996. That was the last time his family saw him.
Detective Cooley noted that the automotive keys found with the human remains belonged to a Ford vehicle which were consistent with the type of vehicle the missing man had been driving. He read in the report as well that the missing man, Otha Young, Jr had undergone open heart surgery. He realized with some dismay that the family had actually been in Florence, Ky in 1996 to pass out fliers for their missing father. Otha had apparently called them the evening of October 9th from a hotel in Florence to let them know he had been stopped by police and had been cited for not having a driver's license. The family believed he was on his way to see other family members in Ohio when he was pulled over.
Detective Cooley got in touch with the family and began the painstaking work of delving for more information and piecing things together. Unfortunately the family did not have anything that could be tested for DNA to compare to the samples taken from the human remains. Then Detective Cooley remembered the open heart surgery that Otha had undergone and reached out to the hospital where the surgery had taken place. It was determined that the lab had kept a sample of tissue from Otha Young, Jr. and finally, there was a way to know for certain if the unidentified remains were that of Otha Young, Jr. Indeed lab tests were able to confirm a match and the mystery of the unidentified remains was solved in October of 2005, nearly one year since their discovery, and nine years after Otha's family had last heard from him. The identify of the victim was positively and for certain, Otha Young, Jr. of Louisville, Kentucky. (Pictured at the bottom of this page.)
STILL SEEKING JUSTICE
It has now been nearly 13 years since the human remains found just off of I-75 in Florence, Kentucky were identified as elderly Alzheimer's patient, Otha Young, Jr. He has a his name back and his story back, but Otha and his family are still awaiting justice. Otha's remains told a story and investigators listened, resulting in his identification. Now police and Otha's family need others to speak up and tell the story of what happened to Otha Young, Jr. in October of 1996.
Police are certain that Otha Young met his demise at the hand of another and they want Otha's killer brought to justice. The individual who preyed on an elderly man suffering from Alzheimers is most definitely not someone who needs to be walking city streets a free man. If you have any information on this crime at all, you are urged to reach out to the Florence Police Department at (859) 371- 1234. You can also get involved by sharing this post so that this information can reach as many people as possible.
~None Silent, None Forgotten~
OTHA YOUNG, JR.