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Home  >  Topics  >  Investigations

June 22, 2000
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Police seek aid in serial slayings; K-State professor asked to test bones

THE KANSAS CITY STAR -- A week ago, investigators working on the John E. Robinson Sr. serial murder case thought they'd solved the final two pieces in a macabre puzzle by tentatively identifying the last two women found in a Cass County storage locker. Investigators figured Jane Doe No. 1 and Jane Doe No. 2 were Sheila Dale Faith and her daughter, Debbie Lynn Faith. Authorities had linked the Faiths to Robinson, a 56-year-old Olathe man. Robinson has been charged in the deaths of five women found in barrels in the locker and on Robinson's Linn County, Kan., property. But the dental records and X-rays didn't match up. So now investigators will look to Michael Finnegan, a professor of anthropology at Kansas State University, for help. Cass County Prosecutor Chris Koster said Monday that he hopes that Finnegan, an expert in forensic anthropology, can provide more clues about the women. "We're just trying to get basic information, such as the age of women and the time period in which they have been dead," Koster said. Using skeletal remains, Finnegan said, he can determine a person's age, sex, stature and race or ancestry. Police can then compare that information to profiles of missing people. Koster and Finnegan will discuss later this week whether the tests should be conducted in the Kansas City area or whether the remains should be taken to Finnegan's lab in Manhattan, Kan. Meanwhile, about half of the investigators who had been working on the Robinson case returned to their regular jobs Monday. Sixteen investigators from several departments remain on the Lenexa-based task force, tracking down new leads and working on the murder cases against Robinson, said Lenexa Sgt. Rick Roth, the team's spokesman. Detectives are trying to narrow down the times when several women connected to Robinson were last seen. In addition to the five dead women for which Robinson is charged, authorities are investigating the disappearances of five other women and a baby. As media across the country pick up news about the investigation, the task force has received calls from people who knew Robinson or his alleged victims. But the phone call load, now 30 or so a day, is just a trickle compared to the flood of calls when police first made their three-month investigation public early this month. Investigators have talked to people on the phone but have not flown to meet them in other states, Roth said. Some of the leads have come from other police agencies. Police in Maryland Heights, Mo., a St. Louis suburb, asked the task force whether Robinson might be connected to one of their old murder cases. "They had some women in trash cans, but we're satisfied that he was in prison when that happened," Roth said. Real Jesse James Finnegan has been called on before by authorities and military personnel worldwide. Among his more notable cases: verifying the identity of outlaw Jesse James. Some relatives of a J. Frank Dalton believe the outlaw faked his death in Missouri, assumed the name Dalton and moved to Texas, where he died in 1951 at age 104. Those relatives recently secured a court order to exhume the body in Texas for testing. But DNA tests done in 1995 indicate that the real Jesse James is buried at Kearney, in Clay County. "The Texans are having some difficulty with that," Finnegan said. "But that is Jesse." When examining human remains, Finnegan said, he could use any number of about 30 tests. To determine race and ancestry, he looks to the nose, or more precisely, the nasal aperture. In African-American skulls, the opening is wide and squat. "It looks like an upside-down valentine," Finnegan said. For those of western European origin, the opening is longer and "droopy and skinny" at its base. Although investigators already know that the two unidentified women found stuffed in barrels died of blows to the head, little is known of how long they have been dead. But by studying any trauma inflicted on the bodies before, during or after death, Finnegan may be able to answer some of those questions, he said. As for determining age, that science is more precise with youngsters than with adults. If the unidentified person is 7 or younger, Finnegan said, he can estimate the age within six months. Clues such as loss of front teeth and the presence of certain teeth are telltale indicators, he said. The hip bone is another good indicator of age. In teen-agers, the bone's surface resembles "a freshly plowed field," Finnegan said. "As you get older, those ridges erode and modify, the furrows fill up and you get a smoothing of the area," he said. That technique works well up until age 50. Beyond that, scientists can examine other sections of bone, which change constantly from birth until 80s and 90s. Of the hundreds of cases Finnegan has worked, only three victims remain unidentified, he said. In all three cases, no missing person report seemed to match the data from Finnegan's tests. Koster said even if the two Jane Does are never identified, he is prepared to continue with his case against Robinson. "It's possible they may go as Jane Doe indefinitely," he said. "It's conceivable that we may never know who these women are."






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