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Bones found in 1989 in a Wisconsin chimney identified as man who last contacted relatives in 1970


MADISON, Wis. — Human bones found inside the chimney of a Wisconsin music store in 1989 have been identified as those of a man whose last known contact with relatives was in 1970, authorities said.

The DNA Doe Project, a nonprofit that uses genealogy to identify unknown persons, announced this week that the bones are those of Ronnie Joe Kirk, who was originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

His bones and skull were found in September 1989 in Madison, Wisconsin, in a pile at the bottom of the narrow chimney of a since-demolished building that then housed a music store.

Authorities tried unsuccessfully to identify the remains of the person, whom they called “Chimney Doe.”

But in late 2018, Madison Police Detective Lindsey Ludden brought the case to the DNA Doe Project and hair samples from the skull were sent in 2021 to Astrea Forensics, a California-based DNA sequencing company that specializes in degraded samples.

Gwen Knapp of the DNA Doe Project said it took more than two years to develop a DNA profile suitable for investigating genetic genealogy. That led to the bones being identified as those of Kirk, who was born in 1942, was adopted, married twice and had three children.

“This was such a unique case with adoption, and multiple generations of different marriages, despite having a relatively close DNA relative match in the family,” Knapp said. “We’re so excited that we can give Ronnie Kirk his name back and hope his family has some closure for Ronnie being missing for so long.”

Madison police spokesperson Stephanie Fryer said Kirk’s last confirmed contact with relatives was in 1970, when he divorced his second wife in Missouri. Fryer said Kirk’s children, two from his first marriage and one from his second, are in their 50s and did not know each other until investigators contacted them.

Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes said Kirk’s relatives have asked for privacy and no additional information was given about them, beyond a statement saying they were happy to finally know what had happened to him.



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