A 20-year-old cold case considered a homicide in Grant County is getting new attention and new funding.
Sheriff Glenn Palmer advised the Grant County Court Nov. 28 that the History Channel was interested in the case and will pay for additional analysis in an effort to confirm the identity of the victim.
Human remains were initially found in the Vance Creek drainage about a mile and a half west of Highway 395 and south of John Day by Chad Holliday in 1997, Palmer said. Additional remains were found by Ted Ferrioli the next year in the same area.
The sheriff’s office has spent a lot of time and effort on the cold case and reached a standstill because of funding issues, Palmer said. The new analysis might identify the victim within a short period of time, and if so, the sheriff’s office would have another homicide case on its hands, he said.
“I am not sure as to what they are using to identify this person and haven’t been in contact with them as of yet,” Palmer told the Eagle.
As part of the arrangement with the History Channel, the sheriff’s office would be a willing participant in a show about the case, he said.
“There are several other cases across Oregon that they will also be looking at,” Palmer said.
Chad Holliday was gathering cattle on horseback near Fall Mountain in fall 1997 when he spotted what appeared to be part of a human skull.
“I’ve seen most every skull this county has to offer,” he told the Eagle at the time. “There is nothing as big as a human brain.”
He left the skull fragment where he found it and only briefly scanned the area for additional remains. He wasn’t sure he wanted to find any more.
“It was kind of eerie,” he said.
Holliday reported his finding to the sheriff’s office, and the next day he escorted Sheriff Fred Reusser, John Day dentist Curtis Hansford, John Day Police Chief Swede Larson and Cpl. Julie Armistead to the site. Officials took photographs and conducted a grid search until the effort was halted by snowfall.
Hansford initially said he needed to further study the skull fragment to determine if it was human. The sheriff’s office at first assessed the skull as from a bear, but an anthropological exam confirmed it was from a human. By that time, however, winter conditions in the area ended the on-site investigation.
Interest in the case was renewed seven months later when Ted Ferrioli discovered a corpse in the cold rushing waters of Vance Creek. Ferrioli was walking his dog on the weekend of May 2-3, 1998, when he discovered the remains.
The naked body, missing its head and hands, was found partially buried and immersed in Vance Creek, below a log landing from an old timber sale and about 100 yards from where Holliday had found the skull fragment. It was believed the creek did not run high enough to move the body downstream.
The body was semi-mummified after being in Vance Creek for a time and then frozen through the winter. The remains were transported to Driskill Memorial Chapel and then sent to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Portland for additional examination.
An autopsy determined that the deceased white man was 49-73 years old, about 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed about 225 pounds. The forensic lab determined the man was killed between May and November 1997. No personal items, teeth or hair were found in the area, but the autopsy determined the man had severe atherosclerotic coronary artery disease.
Palmer, who was a John Day police officer at the time of the discovery, took over the case following his election as sheriff in 2000. After gathering information on the case and reaching a standstill, he went to the public in 2011 seeking assistance.
The cause of death was a homicide, Palmer said at the time, but he withheld details on the manner of death. The sheriff said the man was either brought to the site and killed or killed somewhere else and dumped there.
A nearby secondary road was likely used by the suspect, Palmer said. The remoteness of the area suggested the perpetrator was a local, but DNA testing had ruled out leads involving missing people. He said he believed the man was from outside the area.
Palmer noted at the time that several leads had been unsubstantiated or disproved. Even psychics had come forward with opinions, he added.
“We’re still trying to find his identity,” Palmer said at the time. “It’s definitely a homicide, but we know that somebody doing this by themselves is highly unlikely.”
Palmer advised the county court Nov. 28 that investigating the cold case would increase expenses for the sheriff’s office, including overtime.
“Until we can determine if this person was shot and killed here or shot somewhere else and dumped here, this will be our case until a crime scene of a different origin can be determined,” Palmer said.
These types of investigations are time consuming, he said, and if the sheriff’s office dedicated one or two people solely to this case, other personnel likely would have to carry the rest of the office’s work load.
The office is also investigating the death of Terry and Sharon Smith on Nan’s Rock Road near Mt. Vernon as a homicide. The couple’s home burned during the night of July 17-18.
“This, coupled with the Smith case, is going to be labor intensive, and there will most likely be costs associated that we did not anticipate in our budget process,” Palmer told the Eagle.