Investigators exhume unidentified bodies to collect DNA and find families closure

Posted at 5:33 PM, Aug 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-25 17:33:49-04

CANTON, Mich. (WXYZ) — Detroit Police, the FBI and others are working to exhume bodies this week at the Knollwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Canton.

The Detroit Police Department asked the FBI to help with a one of a kind project.

Homicide Detectives wanted to exhume the bodies of unidentified people buried before advances in DNA and then identify them and find their families.

“Very important for us to help them out and get some closure for families. Closure for families who do not know where their loved one went missing or how they died,” said Steven D’Antuono, Special Agent In Charge FBI.

“These are people that have families looking for them,” said Sgt. Shannon Jones, of the Detroit Police Homicide Unit.

Sgt Shannon Jones of the Detroit Police Homicide Unit is a leading force in what is called UNITED, which stands for Unknown Names Identified through Exhumation and DNA.

Families of missing people have given police their DNA, hoping it will help find a relatives’s DNA in the system. Before 2013, DNA was not always collected.

Last year the project started with the exhumation of unidentified homicide victims, so that DNA could be collected.

“This year we are focusing all the other cases where it may be a person from a house fire, it may be someone that drowned, it may be someone found deceased in a park that we recovered,” said Jones.

There are about 100 unidentified people connected with open Detroit Police cases still buried without DNA in the system at different cemeteries.

Sgt. Jones says last year’s exhumation allowed her her to tell a man whose mom went missing in 1987 after she left for the store, that his mother didn’t abandon him. She was the victim of a homicide.

“I can’t express, when you see someone’s face and they are crushed, but happy at the same time. You are telling them you have their loved one, we have your mom, and that chapter is closed. Now we can proceed on the next steps,” said Jones.

That case remains under investigation.

They plan to exhume 26 bodies over the next three days here at Knollwood Memorial Park. More will be done in the future.