Man's body identified 38 years after being found in western North Dakota

The Williams County Sheriff Office shared a photo of a tattoo located on the deceased man's left ankle. (Provided photo)
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WILLISTON, N.D. — A man whose body was found floating down the Missouri River 38 years ago and was buried without anyone knowing who he was has been identified.

The Williams County Sheriff's Department, who disinterred the young man's body from Riverview Cemetery on Monday, Aug. 10, said the body is that of Phillip Peterson.

The department didn't give any other information about Peterson.

Media coverage of the removal of his body from an unmarked grave led to a family member recognizing tattoos after seeing them on a news program.

The family member then contacted the sheriff's office, which said Thursday, Aug. 13, that the name and new technologies in digital forensics led to the positive identification.


Peterson's body was found in the Missouri River near the mouth of the Little Muddy River, just east of Williston, on June 22, 1982.

Despite what the sheriff's department said was a thorough investigation, the man was not identified until now.

The sheriff reopened the case to bring closure to any family that may still be living and to test out the new identification and analysis technologies.

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Neither descriptions of the suspect nor information on how many suspects may have been involved was provided by authorities.
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The gas station, which opened in 1934, was the last in the United States that used hand, known as gravity, pumps. It was a Standard Oil Station from 1934 to 1959, then was privately owned after the main route to Watertown, South Dakota, was changed and the car and truck traffic dwindled.