Three skulls, three mysteries, a hope for a spark of recognition.
The Virginia Department of Health on Thursday unveiled three of what they call “facial approximations” created from unidentified remains in Manassas, hoping family or friends might see a familiar face and call with a tip.
Leah Bush, Virginia’s chief medical examiner, said that the more than 200 sets of unidentified remains in the state, many found years ago, represent a “silent mass disaster.” Authorities have exhausted traditional methods of finding their identity — including matching dental records, a missing person’s description or linking extracted DNA through a national database of those looking for the missing.
Authorities don’t know whether there was foul play involved in the three cases they highlighted Thursday. But Bush said authorities must continue to work until an identity is found so they can “reunite these decedents with their families and their loved ones.”
Working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s laboratory in Quantico, a forensic artist collaborated with an anthropologist to determine the basic facial characteristics about the person and sculpt an “approximation” of their face.
Those busts, along with some basic information gleaned by anthropologists, were unveiled Thursday.
Two of the sets of remains were found on land controlled by the National Park Service and the other was found in Fairfax County.
The oldest case comes from remains discovered on Jan. 16, 2003, when a maintenance worker came across a skeleton under the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge. The skeletal remains are believed to belong to a 5-foot-7 or 5-foot-8 adult black male in his mid-30s.
The body was found along a bike path in Arlington County near Theodore Roosevelt Island.
In the second case, remains were discovered on Feb. 13, 2011, by a man walking his dog near Fords Landing Way in Alexandria. The area is known as Jones Point and is a popular fishing spot.
The remains belong to an adult Asian male in his late 30s or early 40s who was between 5-feet 5-inches and 5-feet 9-inches.
Fairfax County investigators are looking into the third case, where remains were found by a man walking in the woods near I-66 East and Route 7100 on April 6, 2006. The remains are believed to be those of an older white man between 5-feet 5-inches and 5-feet 1-inch.
Police believe the man was most likely homeless since there was a homeless encampment nearby. Police have found writing that has led them to investigate in Texas, Virginia and the District, said Lucy Caldwell, of the Fairfax County Police Department. But no one has been able to identify him. The man had a broken rosary and a small Bible in his pocket, along with a striped shirt and blue and white running shoes.
“Everybody deserves to have closure,” Caldwell said. Tips, she said, should be directed to Det. Christopher Flanagan at 703-246-7800.
Any tips about either case can also be directed to the Virginia Department of Health at 703-530-2600.