More than three decades after hunters discovered a set of human skeletal remains near a farm in central Ohio, authorities have identified the bones, previously known as John Doe, as former Columbus resident Robert A. Mullins.
The remains were originally found on Nov. 1, 1991, in a shallow grave dug beside a private farm lane on the north side of an interstate highway, according to an announcement released Tuesday by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. Officials came to a number of conclusions about the deceased person’s identity over the years, many of which turned out to be false, the office explained in a news release.
For example, the remains were initially believed to belong to an Indigenous person, before further review by anthropologists suggested that they belonged to a woman, with an estimated height between 5 feet, 1 inch and 5 feet, 4 inches. At the time, the attorney general’s office said, personnel involved in the investigation surmised that the remains had been in the ground for about three years before they were discovered.
For the next 31 years, investigators at the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office and Pickaway County Coroner’s Office continued to search for answers about the identity of the skeletal remains, using DNA technology to move the case forward as the technology advanced. Eventually, the sheriff’s and coroner’s offices partnered with Advance DNA, a company that focuses on genetic and forensic genealogy, which uploaded a DNA profile collected from the unidentified remains to multiple databases at the beginning of 20222.
“This is a case about science advancing,” said Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost at a news conference on Tuesday. “DNA gets better all the time. In 1991, you couldn’t get DNA out of bones. That required a later advancement called mitochondrial DNA.”
After spotting what authorities described as a significant lead on Nov. 1, 2022 — the 31st anniversary of the discovery — they contacted Mullins’ family members and were ultimately able to successfully match their DNA to the samples taken from his remains.
“Thirty-one Christmases have gone by while this family waited for answers,” Yost said in a statement. “When the results weren’t immediate and the case grew cool, Pickaway County law enforcement dug in their heels and kept trying until the evolution of DNA technology finally yielded an identity for John Doe.”
Mullins’ family reported that he went missing at the end of 1988 or the beginning of 1989, officials said. They told investigators that he was about 21 years old at the time of his death, and stood at 5 feet, 3 inches tall, according to the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff’s officers thanked Mullins’ relatives for their cooperation in the case, as they are Mullins’ distant cousins and never met him, the office said in a statement.
The case remains an active homicide investigation, authorities said. They are asking anyone with information to report what they know to Lt. Jonathan Strawser at the Pickaway County Sheriff’s Office.