Officials hoping to identify 1993 shooting victim; may have connection to Orange

Published 12:18 am Thursday, March 28, 2024

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MERRYVILLE, La. — In 1993, the skeletal remains of a black male were found in a wooded area approximately 13 miles south of Merryville, Louisiana in southwest Beauregard Parish.

Now, more than three decades after the grim discovery, investigators are still trying to identify the man.

Zeb Johnson, a retired investigator for the Calcasieu Parish coroner’s office, who now spends his time working on cold cases, hopes new advanced DNA technology will help put a name to the victim and bring closure to a family somewhere.

“Most of the cold cases that we’re involved in right now are unidentified bodies and we are going back to revisit those because now we have the tools of DNA and other technology that we didn’t have before,” Johnson said.

The 31-year-old mystery began in early January 1993 when a timber-marking crew working in the area of La. 389 found the badly decomposed body in a heavily wooded area.

Investigators determined that the person was likely an African American male in his mid 20s to mid 30s and about 5 foot 8 inches tall. He was wearing a pair of Cotler brand blue jeans, size 30 waist and 30 inseam, and light tan walking shorts.

“He was well dressed,” Johnson said. “Not a homeless type of person. He had good clothing. We just feel like somebody knows him.”

No personal items including shoes, jewelry or a wallet were found with the remains.

He is believed to have been shot at least twice in the head by a handgun. One bullet was recovered from the skull and another found buried in the ground near the remains. His hands were tied behind his back.

An autopsy determined the cause of death was a homicide.

Investigators believe the body may have been there three to four weeks, Johnson said.

Despite attempting to track down leads and comparing the unidentified remains with missing persons’ reports, investigators came up empty handed.

A facial reconstruction released in 1996 did not generate any leads, he said.

“The problem is we are 30 years down the road from when this happened so those who may have known him would likely be in their 60s or close to their 60s, if they are still living,” he said. “We’re just hoping someone will come forward and maybe identify him.”

Investigators are now hoping results from a new DNA technology will help locate possible descendants of the deceased male and help put a name to the unidentified victim.

“In 2020 we were able to send some of the remains to Othram in The Woodlands, Texas,” Johnson said, noting that company has a good track record of being able to extract DNA.

The results indicated there is a good probability the unidentified person is a descendant of Ruebon Ardoin and Edna Freeman, both born in the 1900s. The family could have possible connections to Evangeline, La. and Southeast Texas including the Beaumont, Orange and Newton areas.

The victim also shared DNA characteristics with a Little Ray Ardoin, who was living with his father, Wilfred Ardoin, in Evangeline in 1940, according to the U.S. Census.

“We went from not having any idea who this person’s family was, to now we have an idea of what general family he comes from,” Johnson said. “So we’re hoping it gets people thinking you know, maybe we had a cousin who left home and we never heard from him again. That’s the individual there that we are trying to find or find his name.”

The DNA breakthrough is actually the first indication to give investigators a link to what family the victim may be associated with.

“We have no reason to believe his last name is Ardoin, but we believe he is in that genetic tree,” Johnson said.

Investigators have talked to grandchildren of the Ardoins, but they have no knowledge of this person, he said.

Johnson said it is hard to get families involved in cold cases because they may not have any information or they may be concerned about being responsible for burial expenses.

“We’re not asking for any commitment or obligation from people, we are just asking for leads,” Johnson said.

Anyone with information can contact the Calcasieu Parish Coroner’s Office at 337-477-7537. The information will be kept confidential, but callers are asked to leave a name, number or other way to contact them.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the American Press of Lake Charles, Louisiana. It was reported by Doris Maricle.