Jerry Harrison (undated photo, provided by TBI)

New initiative yields identity of man murdered in 1980s

Wednesday, we told you about a new initiative on the part of the TBI to take advantage of advances in scientific technology to identify human remains discovered as far back as 1977. Last week, that initiative paid off, as a murder victim whose body was found in Claiborne County in 1986, was positively identified as an Arkansas man who had not been seen or heard from since 1982.

The TBI says that on August 24, 1986, skeletal remains were discovered by hunters along an isolated and abandoned trail in the Caney Valley area of Claiborne County. TBI agents began working alongside the Claiborne County Sheriff’s Office in investigating the death, according to an agency press release. Forensic anthropologists determined that the skeletal remains were those of a white male, likely between the age of 30 and 40. The victim had been shot, and his death was ruled a homicide. According to the University of Tennessee Anthropology Department, the man had been deceased for six months to a year prior to the discovery of his remains. After exhausting all leads, investigators could not determine the victim’s identity, and he was classified as a “John Doe.”

As in several other cold cases like this, in September of 2015, the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center submitted a sample of the man’s remains to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification (UNTCHI). A DNA profile was developed and entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) and the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System in hopes that the man would eventually be identified.

In 2022, the Tennessee General Assembly recognized the need for specialized testing to fund a DNA cold case initiative, and approved one-time funding of $100,000. The funding is specifically being used for specialized forensic genetic genealogy testing in TBI cold cases in which the skeletal remains of a victim have not been identified.

In December, agents submitted a portion of the skeletal remains of the victims in ten cases to Othram Inc., a private lab based in Woodlands, Texas, to conduct the DNA extraction and sequencing process for forensic genetic genealogical DNA testing. According to the release, scientists provided information about possible relatives connected to the man. A TBI intelligence analyst used that information to locate potential family members in Arkansas. Agents then made contact with two of those individuals and confirmed they had a brother they had not heard from in more than four decades. With the assistance of the Hot Springs Police Department and Pine Bluff Police Department in Arkansas, agents were able to obtain familial DNA standards for possible siblings of the man, which were submitted to the TBI Crime Lab in Nashville for entry into CODIS.

Last week, the TBI says that UNTCHI positively identified the man as Jerry Harrison of Little Rock, Arkansas, who was 25 years old when he last contacted his family in 1982 after he began traveling across the country. Now, TBI special agents are hoping the public can help provide information that may help solve the murder of Jerry Harrison. If you have information about this homicide, specifically any knowledge about individuals Mr. Harrison may have been with before his death, please call 1-800-TBI-FIND.

Jerry Harrison (undated photo, provided by TBI)

In August of last year, the efforts of TBI, Orthram and the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification led to the identification of two previously-unidentified sets of human remains found decades ago in East Tennessee.

On April 3, 1985, skeletal remains were found in the Big Wheel Gap area of Elk Valley in Campbell County. Forensic anthropologists determined that the skeletal remains were those of a white female, likely between the age of 10 and 15. However, investigators could not determine her identity, and she became affectionately known as ‘Baby Girl.’

In August of 2022, the authorities positively identified ‘Baby Girl’ as Tracy Sue Walker, who went missing from the Lafayette, Indiana, area in 1978.

In September 1996, TBI agents were requested to assist the Grainger County Sheriff’s Office in investigating the discovery of human remains that were found by hunters in a wooded area just off Dale Road in the Powder Springs section of Grainger County. Based on evidence found at the scene, the case was ruled a homicide. In August of last year, agents received confirmation that the DNA profile was that of 38-year-old Brenda Clark, who was reportedly last seen by family in 1996.

Investigators are still investigating their deaths and if you have any information on either of these cold cases, please call 1-800-TBI-FIND.

You can read more about TBI’s Unidentified Human Remains DNA Initiative by clicking here.

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