Remains found in 1984 identified as missing Air Force veteran
Lewiston Tribune April 12, 2022
GRANGEVILLE, Idaho (Tribune News Service) — The human remains of a man that were discovered near the Powell Ranger Station in 1984 have been positively identified as a 26- to 27-year-old Oklahoma man who went missing shortly after his discharge from the U.S. Air Force in 1982.
Lt. Jerry Johnson of the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Monday that the skeletal remains, dubbed “Mr. Bones,” were those of Roger Brian Bennett, who is believed to have died in 1982.
“It’s very satisfying (to make the positive identification) because different investigators have been working on this for 37-plus years,” Johnson said. “And I’ve spent a lot of hours when I have free time, digging through national databases of missing people, trying to find someone that might match up.”
Idaho County sheriff’s deputies first investigated in 1983 an abandoned camp located about 40 yards from White Sand Road near Colt Killed Creek close to the ranger station. Deputies found a nylon two-person tent, a sleeping bag, towels, cooking items and one prescription eyeglass lens. No identification was found. The deputies believed the camp had been abandoned sometime the year before.
On Sept. 19, 1984, deputies were again summoned to the area after hunters found a human skeleton. The remains were located about 1 mile from the abandoned camp found the previous year. Along with the skeleton were a pair of silver metal-framed prescription eyeglasses with one lens missing. Clothing, shoes and other items also were discovered, but no type of identification was found.
Through the years, Johnson said, the remains were sent to a number of experts and laboratories for evaluation and pictures and composite images were constructed. The cause of death has never been positively determined, but Johnson said he believes violence was likely involved, partly because the lenses from the eye glasses were found in two different locations.
In August 2010, Mr. Bones was entered into the NamUs database funded through the National Institute of Justice. The database has a website to help the public and law enforcement in documenting and searching for missing and unidentified people. Johnson said NamUs currently lists about 21,500 missing persons and 14,000 unidentified persons.
Forensic investigations continued until January of this year, when NamUs agreed to fund a genetic genealogy test through Othram, a private lab that applies modern parallel sequencing to forensic evidence.
On March 22, an Othram representative called the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office about a potential family match for Mr. Bones. Johnson said he contacted a woman named Cheri Pope in Oklahoma City who confirmed she had a brother named Roger Bennett who disappeared in early 1982. Pope and her mother, Wilma Q. Bennett, who is in her 90s, provided DNA reference samples to a private lab in Oklahoma City on April 8 confirmed that the probability of a mother-son relationship between Mr. Bones and Wilma Bennett was 99.9%.
Based on that result, Johnson said, Idaho County Coroner Cody Funke concluded Mr. Bones was Roger Brian Bennett.
Johnson said he spoke with Pope on the phone and the family “has a certain amount of relief and they express their appreciation” to all the investigators involved.
“This was a huge collaborative thing,” Johnson said, noting a long list of laboratories and individuals who have worked on the case. “We, as detectives, we didn’t really do that much. We just didn’t forget. We just kept working as we do on a lot of our (cases). This was one of our big unsolved ones.”
The family told Johnson that Bennett was born in Oklahoma City in 1955, growing up there and graduating from Blanchard High School. He enjoyed journalism and was a National Merit semi-finalist.
Bennett enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and worked in mid-air refueling. He was discharged from Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi in early 1982. In his last letter to his family, Bennett said he was planning to travel to Houma, La., to look for work on an offshore oil rig. He would have been 26 to 27 years old at the time of his disappearance.
Johnson said the family had no idea why Bennett came to Idaho, although he had once expressed interest in the Lewis and Clark expedition and wondered what it would have been like to accompany them.
His remains were found near a segment of the Lewis and Clark trail, Johnson said.
The remains are being returned to the family, the lieutenant said, and they plan to hold a memorial to lay Bennett to rest.
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