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After 18 years, police ID man killed in house fire

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 2, 2013 at 6:25 pm •  Published: May 2, 2013

John Edwin Duff was last seen in Multnomah County, Ore., in September 1994. A month later, firefighters found the body of a man who died in an Ogden house fire. They believed he was taking shelter there one October night when it set ablaze. They didn't suspect foul play.

Utah Investigators in 1994 exhausted leads on the identity of the man killed in the house fire, and they couldn't find a fingerprint match. In 2010, they added the case to a growing national database tracking unidentified remains. In 2012, the sheriff's office in Multnomah County, Ore. added Duff's profile to the National Missing & Unidentified Persons System.

The system tipped off Utah investigators that two entries overlapped with similar information. Tim Scott, the police sergeant, opened the case back up after the database pinged them that there may be a match to a missing person from Salt Lake City.

That lead was wrong. But Scott went to the Utah State Crime Lab to run the man's fingerprints again. The fingerprint scan turned over a different match with the 20-something from Oregon.

Scott also Googled Duff's name and found a photograph of him. He matched that photo to one of the burn victim's face and seeing similar features, he called the state medical examiner.

Ogden police relayed the match to the sheriff in Multnomah, where police contacted Duff's family 18 years after he went missing.

Police say they hope that technology will help them bring closure to family members of other people who have been missing for decades.

"It's difficult" to tell families about loved ones, Scott said, "but at the same time it's rewarding."