After finding an unidentified body in a Manassas creek last month, Prince William County police detectives used what little evidence they had--most importantly a small tag on the man's underwear--to trace the victim's origins across the Atlantic in a joint investigation with European authorities.
Police identified the man on Thursday night as Johannes Dehart, 62, of the Netherlands, a tourist who set out alone in September to explore the United States, said Sgt. Kim Chinn, a police spokeswoman. Dehart's son called authorities in the Netherlands after seeing a 30-second segment on television there last week, a spot on a show similar to "America's Most Wanted" that displayed a computer-enhanced photograph of Dehart that was furnished by Prince William police.
The path to the show's broadcast, Detective Charlie Hoffman said, was traveled slowly.
Detectives were baffled by the man's corpse for more than five weeks after it was found, lying face down in the low water of a creek behind Loch Lomand Baptist Church on Sept. 29. The man's fingerprints didn't match any found in databases, his description didn't fit any missing persons reports and the publication of his photo by news organization across the region didn't return a single viable tip.
"We had no idea who this man was," Hoffman said yesterday. "All we had was the tag on his underwear, a brand called Hollandia. So, we started there."
Hoffman learned that the brand belonged to a European garment manufacturer that distributes in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, and that the company does not do business overseas. Hoffman then contacted European authorities for help.
"We knew where the garment came from, but that was about it," Hoffman said. "So I was e-mailing an inspector in Holland, and he was able to put the man's picture on television over there."
Shortly after the program aired, Dehart's son called authorities to say that the man was possibly his father, though the picture wasn't enough to identify him. Dehart's son told police that Dehart had left for the United States on Sept. 17 and had flown to Atlanta "because he felt like just going to see the United States, and he just picked up and went," Hoffman said.
Dutch authorities went to Dehart's home, took fingerprints, compared them with those of the man found in Virginia, and, after a month of investigation, they knew their victim's name.
At that point, Hoffman said, his work has just begun. Now that police know that the victim is Dehart, they must piece together the circumstances surrounding his slaying, which will likely be difficult because officials believe he was traveling alone.
From evidence gathered at the scene, police believe that Dehart was killed elsewhere, driven to the creek and dropped. Tire tracks leading to the scene indicate the body was dumped, and police did not find any shoe prints around the creek bed.
Dehart died of a blow to the head from a blunt object, but police won't say what they believe that object was. Hoffman said that forensic evidence indicates that Dehart likely died while on his back.
"We're actively looking for the crime scene," Hoffman said, adding that he has few if any useful local tips. "I'm looking at hotels, rental cars, taxicab drivers, anyone who might have seen this guy or thinks he looks familiar. We're focusing on businesses a traveler would frequent."
Dehart's son told authorities that Dehart was recently divorced, retired and had been traveling with a lot of cash. Police said they don't know how or why Dehart made his way to Northern Virginia.