SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Investigators are crediting advances in technology for helping them identify a man found dead nearly two decades ago after a Utah house fire as a 27-year-old from Oregon who was reported missing around the same time.
Police determined John Edwin Duff's identity last week using fingerprints. They connected his September 1994 disappearance to an Ogden house fire that happened a month later.
"Whether he was just travelling through town, whether he was staying at a local shelter but couldn't make it in for the night, we don't have any of those details," Ogden police Sgt. Tim Scott said. But the fingerprints matched, he said.
Investigators say improved forensic know-how, a simple Google search and a national database for people reported missing helped them identify Duff. Those tools were not available 18 years ago.
Duff was a former marine with a history of depression and alcoholism, and it's likely he considered suicide, Multnomah County police records show.
He had several outstanding warrants, said Lt. Steve Alexander, including at least one for burglary. Duff's family reported him missing in March 1995, Alexander said, about five months after the Utah house fire.
Duff's case is exactly the kind that investigators probably wouldn't have pieced together more than a handful of years ago. Before 2009, it was tough for authorities to identify someone who went missing in one state and was found dead in another state, medical examiner and investigator Jill Haslam said.
Investigators also had a hard time linking cases where the remains turned up before police filed those reports.
Utah medical examiners credit a database, which it began using in 2009, for helping identify the remains of six other people that were found in Utah back to 1978, Haslam said.
They expect advances in technology to help form more connections between people who have been missing for years and unidentified remains cataloged around the country.