Youngstown police, coroner’s office seeking help identifying bodies found decades ago

Cold Case

Two of the bodies were found in Youngstown and a third in Smith Township

City police Detective Sgt. Dave Sweeney, who heads up missing persons' cases for the department, and coroner's investigator Theresa Gaetano are trying to find the identity of a woman found Oct. 31, 1995 in a vacant Wirt Street apartment.

Investigators find a body at a home on Wirt Street in Youngstown in 1995. They’re still trying to identify the woman.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Youngstown police and the Mahoning County Coroner’s Office are trying to identify two bodies found in the city, one stretching back 41 years, but they do not have a lot to go on.

The coroner’s office is also looking for help identifying a body found in 1976, but again, there is almost no evidence in that case.

City police Detective Sgt. Dave Sweeney, who heads up missing persons’ cases for the department, and coroner’s investigator Theresa Gaetano are trying to find the identity of a woman found Oct. 31, 1995 in a vacant Wirt Street apartment and a man who was pulled out of the Mahoning River June 29, 1980.

Gaetano said what makes the latter case more frustrating is the man was cremated two days after he was found by a local funeral home, and no autopsy was done on him. A death certificate lists his cause of death as “asphyxiation by drowning.”

Sweeney said the man was pulled out of the river just east of the Market Street Bridge. Newspaper reports at the time said firefighters needed grappling hooks to retrieve the man’s body from a set of rocks in the river.

The man’s pants were pulled down at his ankles, but authorities at the time speculated that the force of the water could have pushed them down. A newspaper account noted a crowd of about a dozen people watched in a downpour as firefighters worked to retrieve the man’s body.

Foul play was not suspected at the time. Gaetano said she had no explanation as to why an autopsy was not done or why the body was cremated right away. The coroner’s reports noted that the body was displayed at the funeral home where the cremation took place, but no one could identify the man.

There is no DNA or other evidence saved because it was before the age of DNA being used to help identify people, Gaetano said.

The man is described as a 5’8 white male, 50 to 55 years old, with brown hair and brown eyes. The date the man drowned could not be determined, but it is not believed he was in the river very long, newspaper accounts at the time said.

Authorities couldn’t use fingerprints to identify the man because they were not usable, Gaetano said.

For the woman found on Wirt Street, investigators have a little more to work with, but not much. Sweeney said her remains were found inside the apartment, which was vacant, by a maintenance crew. The apartment was also in a state of disarray when the woman was found, Sweeney said.

Gaetano said investigators were able to save the woman’s jaw, but she recently sent it out to be tested and investigators determined they could not get any DNA from it. Investigators were able to make a dental chart of the victim’s teeth, however, but that can only be used if they have dental records to compare it to.

The woman is estimated to be white, about 5’2 and about 110 pounds. It is estimated she had been dead for two to three months before she was found, Gaetano said. A cause of death could not be determined.

The woman was wearing Levi’s five-pocket jeans, with a 28-inch waist and 32-inch inseam. She had on a blue, short sleeved shirt that had the words, “Golden Age Games, Sanford, Florida,” on the front in yellow letters on the front. She also had on white and black Nike Air Jordan high top shoes, size 8 and white tube socks with green stripes, and a black button up sweater with a blue and gray striped swirl design.

There was also a crack pipe found near the woman at the time, but it could not be used for testing, Gaetano said.

Gaetano also does not have much to work with in identifying a woman who was found Oct. 4, 1976, on South Range Road by an Ohio Edison work crew.

It was estimated at the time that the woman had been dead for six to eight months before she was discovered. Investigators were able to recover a belt and a comb, according to newspaper reports at the time.

Gaetano said a cause of death was not established for the woman, who was also cremated just two days after her remains were found.

She is described as being 6’0 and about 180 pounds.

Anyone with information on any of the cases can contact Gaetano at 330-740-2175, ext. 7310 or for the cases in Youngstown, Sweeney can be contacted at 330-742-8911.

This story is part of a series of cold cases that WKBN is examining.

Do you have a cold case that you’d like us to look into further? Submit a cold case to WKBN.

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