MSU anthropologists help families of missing persons find closure

November 22, 2017


When human remains are found in Mid-Michigan and authorities have few clues on who they are, they turn to anthropologists at Michigan State University.

The human remains found recently in the Saginaw area and Flint have been sent to Michigan State University to be studied by the two people in the state who handle cases like that.

“We are actively trying to make an identification of the individual,” said anthropologist Joe Hefner.

The remains of a man were found last month along I-675 in Buena Vista Township. Hefner was asked to help identify them and determine a cause of death.

Hefner also has been asked to help identify the two people whose remains were found earlier this month in Flint’s Broome Park.

He cannot comment on the specific investigations, but one of the first things his office does when it receives cases like these is to get medical information on any missing person cases in the region. That includes previous X-rays and medical records.

“We are able to use those to make comparisons between what we are seeing on our laboratory table and what we are seeing in these old medical records,” Hefner said.

In the Buena Vista case, Saginaw area police believe the remains could be that of 68-year-old Clemmie McGee, who was reported missing from his Saginaw home in April. Hefner and his team confirmed that identity on Monday, but haven’t yet determined a cause of death for him.

While Hefner’s main objective is to identify the remains, he can also help investigators with a possible cause of death.

“Based on what we are seeing from the skeleton, be able to determine it’s a gunshot wound, for instance, or we might determine that its blunt force trauma,” Hefner said.

Michigan State’s anthropology department works on about 80 identification cases each year. Hefner also teaches classes at the university and conducts research, but he knows someone is waiting for answers when human remains are found.

“Our job is to provide closure for the families first and foremost,” he said.