CAROLINE COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — More than 30 years after their deaths, the cases of two unidentified individuals whose remains were found in Caroline County are still unsolved.
On Nov. 10, 1988, two turkey hunters found skeletal remains in a wooded area adjacent to Interstate 95 near the 112-mile marker in the Ladysmith community, according to a release. Virginia State Police (VSP) responded to the scene.
“At that time, they recovered two sets of skeletal remains and a few other items from the scene, to include a leather belt with the word ‘SILVANO’ tooled into it, which may helped us, as time continues to identify one of the victims there,” VSP Special Agent Jonathan Johnson said.
Forensic analysis of the remains confirmed that both individuals were adult, Hispanic males, who went missing between 1987 and 1988. Johnson told 8News that their bodies had likely been in that area since the summer of 1988 before they were found.
One of the men is estimated to have been between 40 and 60 years old at the time of his death, while the other man is estimated to have been between 15 and 30 years old. The leather belt with the word “SILVANO” was found with the older man.
“A lot of work was put into people that were missing at that time, that were reported, and to determine whether or not they were those victims,” Johnson said. “Fifteen possible victims were identified, and dental records and things were used to negate whether those were the people or not. Also, some of those reported missing people were later located around that time in other parts of the U.S.”
Johnson said that identifying the individuals who lost their lives is the priority in this case.
“It’s trying to win a race when you don’t know the start or the finish line,” he said. “In this case, you have unidentified, unknown victims, which makes it difficult to find a suspect because you don’t know where they’ve been or who they know or who they’ve been in contact with.”
Johnson didn’t share how he believes the two men died. However, he confirmed that the case is being investigated as a homicide.
“DNA advancements have progressed a lot since the ’80s,” he said. “There are things that have been submitted, and more data we’ve got back on DNA and stuff. But, unfortunately, because DNA was in its infancy at that time, a lot of the things that we would have swabbed for DNA or utilized, at that time, they tested for blood and other things, which kind of puts us at a detriment to trying to get DNA off of it today.”
Johnson told 8News that the men were likely undocumented migrants or immigrants from South or Central America. But despite interviewing undocumented workers in the area at the time, authorities said no missing person reports matched up.
“There’s just really a lot of hypotheticals with how they ended up there,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, as time moves on, it forgets things.”
Johnson said that investigators in the 1980s searched through Mexico’s list of missing persons, as well, but were unable to find anyone with a possible surname or description that matched these two men.
“Somewhere, somebody has questions about what happened to a possible family member, and that has to be unnerving,” he said. “I’ve been assigned to the Cold Case Unit for a while now, and I will tell you, speaking with some of these family members that have been identified recently that have been missing for 30 years, it’s a light bulb that goes off for them to finally get an answer.”
Johnson said that the men were also found with a belt buckle made from material commonly found in Mexico. He noted that it had an individual dressed in a feather headdress on it.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System assisted VSP in conducting genealogical research and creating facial reconstruction models of each man to help identify them.
Anyone with information about either individual is encouraged to contact VSP by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 804-609-5656.