Bone By Bone, Police Configure Remains
A baffling mystery in Fort Myers, Fla. began simply, with the discovery of a human skull by a land surveyor. While walking along a five-acre parcel of land in a wooded forest near Rockfill and Arcadia Streets in Fort Myers, the surveyor stumbled across what he first thought was the head of a small animal. Upon closer examination, the surveyor -- who was working for a local real estate developer -- realized the skull was human and called 9-1-1.
That was on March 23, 2007. By sunset that night, Fort Myers police recovered the bones from nearly eight complete bodies with the help of area agencies, cadaver dogs and forensic experts.
It was a grim recovery. Fort Myers detectives found themselves wondering, how did eight people come to die in a wooded area just three miles east of downtown? It's a question cops are still trying to answer.
Forensic anthropologist Heather Walsh Haney and forensic dentists worked day in and day out trying to piece together the remains. The good news was the meticulous search on that warm March day helped them recover about 90% of the 206 bones each body would have left behind. The bad news was, they didn't know whose remains they were dealing with.
First, the experts built a profile of each person. During an interview with America's Most Wanted, forensic anthropologist Heather Walsh Haney told us, "I've been blown away by seeing the eight skeletons come to life here."
After a thorough examination of the remains, forensic evidence indicated that all eight were men ranging from 18 to 49 years old. They learned that seven of the eight men had first-rate dental care. One of the men was believed to have been homeless or had a rough life based on bone damage and poor dental care. Experts said that the men known as the "Fort Myers Eight" were found within 50 yards of one another, and had been killed between 1980 and 2000.
With bones and information in hand, Sharon Long, a renowned forensic artist in Wyoming, used her artistic talents to create plaster molds of what the men are believed to have looked like at the time of death.
"Now these men will have someone speaking for them," Heather said, looking over facial reconstructions of the eight men. "We know these men have been isolated for years in the woods and hopefully this will spark the memory of family members."
That's exactly what police need help to answer: Who are these men, and how did they die?
Who Killed Eight Men?
While Fort Myers Police have not officially called the death of these eight men a murder, homicide detectives are working the case and considering it just that. They are trying to figure out who these men are and how they all ended up in this secluded wooded area not far from busy downtown Fort Myers.
Detectives have heard it all on this case: from mafia-related causes to the work of a gang, a cult or even a serial killer. The theories and rumors are endless.
Cops are working all leads and all theories. First they began with the possibility of a funeral home illegally dumping bodies. Prior to the recovery of these bones, a funeral parlor had done just that, but in another part of town. Based on the evidence, police are doubtful this was the case.
Another theory points the finger at Daniel Conahan, accused of killing homeless men in wooded areas north of Fort Myers in Charlotte County. Conahan was suspected of murdering five men but was convicted of a single case, based on the evidence of a victim who survived. Conahan was dubbed the "Hog Trail Murderer" because he allegedly tied naked men to trees in the woods and strangled them. He remains on Florida's death row, appealing his sentence.
Detectives continue to look at theories involving the mob, a gang and whether the deaths are part of a hate crime. Some believe the men may have been gay and may have been targeted because of their sexual orientation. None of these theories have been confirmed, nor have they been ruled out.
Two Men Identified
Thanks to DNA, police were able to identify two of the eight men in November 2007.
They victims dubbed "Victim A" through "Victim H" were run through DNA databases. With the help of technology and next of kin, Victim D was identified as John Blevins, a white male from neighboring Port Charlotte, who resembled the forensic facial reconstruction. Victim E was confirmed to be Erik Kohler, a young man from Fort Myers. Police and family say the two men had minor criminal histories but were missing for quite some time.
For the families, learning about their deaths was bittersweet.
Now Fort Myers detectives want to identify the remaining six men. They remain hopeful the identities of the men could help point to a motive and possibly a killer. The best advice cops have is for friends and family members of missing men from 1980 to 2000 to think long and hard about a man they haven't seen in a while. Also, they want people to check out the photos of the forensic facial reconstructions.
Detectives believe with the help of the community and families with missing loved ones, they may be able to close this huge mystery of the "Fort Myers Eight".http://www.amw.com/fugitives/case.cfm?id=51867
Reconstruction of Victim F. Forensic evidence indicates that this man was about 30 years old, had a medium build, had some occupational injuries (possibly from hard work) and had good dental care.http://www.amw.com/fugitives/video_photos.cfm?id=51867