WILLISTON, N.D. -- The Williams County Sheriff Department is seeking the public’s help in identifying a deceased man from 1982.
'With recent advances in technology and in the sharing on social media, we figured it was a good time to put it out in public and try to get this man's family some closure, whoever he may be," said Detective Sgt. Caleb Fry. "Back then in the past, in '82, they did a phenomenal investigation, but the technology just wasn't there. They put (the word) out to the whole United States; they put out teletypes. They sent it to every department. They searched through all missing persons and, despite all their efforts, just couldn't identify him."
On June 24, 1982, the Williston Herald reported that a body was found by two Williston men who were boating about a mile west of the mouth of the Little Muddy River. They saw the body floating downstream at about 8:30 p.m. It had traveled about four miles by the time it was removed from the river at 10:30 p.m.
The man’s body had been in the water for three to five days.
Although an autopsy was conducted, then detective for the department, Jim Quickstad, said the level of decomposition would make it hard to determine the cause of death. Although it appeared to be a non-violent cause, no cause of death was determined — neither was his identity.
The deceased was a Caucasian man who appeared to be about 30-45 years old, about 5'9" tall with medium-length light brown to reddish brown hair and a full beard. He was fully clothed in jeans, a plaid cotton T-shirt and boots that had been cut at the ankles. He weighed approximately 160 pounds.
The man had three crudely-drawn tattoos: a fish with lettering on his left ankle, lettering on his right wrist and lettering on his right shoulder.
Fry said they have no way of knowing if the man was local to the area or not. He was found with no identification.
"Unfortunately, back then it was the tail end of an oil boom, so we had a transient population," he said. "We're encouraging people, especially from out of state, to share, share, share because you never know. Somebody might recognize those tattoos. They're pretty distinct tattoos to be honest."
The department reopened the case a couple of weeks ago.
"We had some detectives go to a recent training about DNA and how DNA now has helped solve a lot of crimes from the past and helped find missing people and identify people, so they were very eager to put those skills to use," Fry said.
The department's first step is the media release asking for tips.
"If this doesn't help, we will exhume the body and retrieve DNA out of it," Fry said. "We have been checking around for dental records, but unfortunately, I don't think dentists are required to keep records for 38 years. We have been checking, but thus far, nothing."
The department has yet to receive any solid tips and officials said if anyone has information about the case, they should contact the Williams County Sheriff’s Office Detective division at 701-577-7700.