Unsolved cases offer few clues to victims’ identities 

(Editor’s note: Terry Sutton follows many “cold cases’ related to Connecticut and the region. In writing the following, he said, “Hopefully someone will see the story and maybe remember who one of these people might be.”)  

It’s been a mystery in the town of North Haven for 60 years. The story starts in late November of 1957, when three men from New Haven went rabbit hunting in a wooded area off of Quinnipiac Avenue. 

There they discovered human remains. 

According to a Nov. 29, 1957 Hartford Courant article, the body was found in a brook near a railroad track worker camp in proximity to the Cedar Hill Train Yard. The New Haven County coroner didn’t perform an autopsy as the body was completely skeletonized. 

Though the remains had rough work clothes on and railroad worker shoes, police did not recover anything that identified the deceased. The news story said that the remains were that of an adult white male in his late 40s, 5 feet, 10 inches, and 175 pounds. The coroner was quoted as stating that there were no signs of a homicide.  The death record in the North Haven Town Clerk’s office also reported that the cause and manner of death as unknown. 

To date, the record has never been amended with the man’s real name, leaving his identity a mystery. He was buried at the town’s Center Cemetery on Nov. 29, days after his discovery.   

Repeated requests to the North Haven Police Department for a comment regarding comment on the 1957 unidentified person were not answered. 

Peter Massey is the Training Coordinator at the National Crime Scene Training and Technology Center at the Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science housed at the University of New Haven. A Cheshire resident and former detective with the Hamden Police Department, he had this to say about the case.

"When examining the bones, law enforcement looks for obvious wounds that may indicate violence," Massey explained. "If the person was strangled, the hyoid bone in the neck would be broken. If the person was stabbed, there might be marks on the bone. The same would entail if the victim was attacked with a blunt object or shot with a firearm. There would be a problem determining cause of death if the bones have been scavenged by animals or the individual was shot or stabbed in a fleshy area such as the abdomen. Obviously this could not determine the cause and manner of death if all that remains of the deceased was skeletal remains.”

With the advancement of DNA testing, it’s become easier for law enforcement and medical examiners to identify bodies and bones from decades ago. 

There are several other unidentified body cases in towns around North Haven.

There is the infamous shoebox murder case that occurred in Wallingford in 1888. The case received national notoriety when two children walking in the Parker Farm District near the Cheshire town line found a chest with a dismembered male human torso in it. The deceased is believed to be between 20 and 40 years old, however, police were never able to successfully identify him or his killer. At the time, the case was featured on the front page of the New York Times. More recently, the case was recapped in an Oct. 22, 2016 Record Journal article about the crime being featured on a 2016 episode of the television show, “Kindred Spirits.”

Decades earlier, the town of Cheshire had its own mystery, when an unidentified man was found dead May 19, 1910. Death records found in the Cheshire Town Clerk’s Office indicate that the deceased died from sustained fractures to his skull and both legs after being hit by a train. He was buried without a name at the town’s Hillside Cemetery.

Some more recent cases still have a reasonable chance of being solved. For instance, the 1975 unsolved murder in East Haven of a woman found in a drainage ditch behind the former Bradlee’s Shopping Center on Frontage Road. 

According to the NAMUS database, which tracks unidentified and missing persons nationally, the hazel-eyed, brown-haired white female was believed to be between the age of 18 and 28. She weighed 125 pounds and was 5 foot, 6 inches tall. Police believe she may have come from a middle class or affluent family due to prior dental work and  plastic surgery on her nose. According to a 2012 New Haven Register article, a person convicted in another New England state is considered a strong suspect in her death. The unidentified woman is buried in an unmarked grave at the State Street Cemetery in Hamden.

For Jan Smolinski, the issues of unidentified and missing persons is personal. In August 2004, the former Cheshire resident’s son, Billy, went missing after a bad breakup with his girlfriend. Foul play is believed to be a factor in his disappearance. Since then, Smolinski has been involved in public speaking and lobbying for more legislation to improve the recovery of missing persons and the identification of the unidentified. She and her family have been instrumental in helping to advance the participation of coroners and medical examiners in using the NAMUS database.

“All lives matter even if time has passed,” Smolinski said. “They deserve the dignity and respect of a name on a resting place.”

On Jan. 2 of this year, the Meriden Police Department and city clergy members participated in a memorial service at the Walnut Grove Cemetery on the 30th anniversary of the 1988 murder of a newborn baby boy. The blonde haired child had been abandoned in freezing weather just hours after he was born. Police believe his mother may have been the one who left him by a tree near an industrial parking lot where he was found wrapped in several pink and white blankets. He was given the name David Paul posthumously. Despite offers of a $20,000 reward, his biological parents have never been identified. 

There are unidentified person cases in other states where police believe the deceased could be connected to the New Haven area. In the town of Malverne, Arkansas, an unidentified man was killed in a car accident in 1984 while hitchhiking. His fellow passenger in the vehicle, the driver, didn’t know his name but said the deceased had mentioned he was from the New Haven area.

Another case involves an unidentified black female found murdered in the town of Clinton, Maryland on March 25, 2000. She was 5 foot, 3 inches, 128 pounds and was found wearing a T-shirt with the logo: "1995 Special Olympics World Games, New Haven, CT, USA." 

She also had a tag of clothing with the letters CS, which could be her initials. The Media Relations Division from the Prince George’s County Police Department are still not sure if the woman lived in the New Haven area or had participated in the actual Games and stayed with a host family during the summer of 1995. They cited the possibility that the victim could have gotten the T-shirt from someone else.


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