08142019-lancastergrave02

Authorities have determined that Boscobel, Wis., native Gale J. Byers was the man found dead in 1995 south of Kieler and buried as “John Doe” in this grave in the Lancaster area.

KIELER, Wis. — More than 20 years after he was discovered, a man who was found dead in a wooded area near U.S. 35/61/151 in Grant County has been identified, authorities announced Wednesday.

The body that was found in the fall of 1995 in a ditch near Maryville Heights south of Kieler has been identified as Boscobel native Gale J. Byers, 56, according to the Grant County Sheriff’s Department.

A motorist who had car trouble spotted the body in an area between the highway and Badger Road in October 1995. Officials at that time estimated that the body had been lying at the site for anywhere from one week to one month.

Authorities at that time were unable to identify the “severely decomposed” body, though they were able to determine that the man died from a heart- related condition. Law enforcement officials tried to identify the remains through the use of an FBI fingerprint database, but they were unsuccessful.

The body was buried in a county-owned cemetery in the Lancaster area in the spring of 1996.

Sheriff Nate Dreckman said Wednesday that the identity of the man remained a mystery, as it became the only “John Doe” case in the county.

“You’re always hopeful that it would be solved,” he said. “You want to give closure to the family.”

County Coroner Phyllis Fuerstenberg, who took over the position in January, reopened the case earlier this year, hoping that new technology would aid in identification efforts.

“Due to some new techniques and technology utilized by the FBI, they were able to obtain fingerprints,” the release states.

A search of the fingerprint database allowed investigators to identify the remains as Byers. Fuerstenberg said she was informed in May that a match was found, and then it was confirmed by the FBI earlier this month. Byers’ family members were located and notified of where the remains were buried.

“I was shocked,” Fuerstenberg said. “I was so happy to bring closure to this family.”

Dreckman said Byers’ family never reported him as missing, believing the man had moved out of state and chose not to stay in touch. He declined to provide the names of those family members.

But he described the family’s reaction to the news that Byers had been identified as “relieved.”

Byers will remain buried at the same location. Authorities are working with the Grant County Veterans Service office to see what military benefits might be available to place a headstone at the gravesite.

Byers’ family will host a graveside service once a headstone is in place.

Dreckman said the technology used to identify Byers could help other area law enforcement agencies crack unsolved cases.

“It’s exciting for the other agencies,” he said. “They might finally be able to make breakthroughs in other cases.”

He added that he was glad to see a case that has been open throughout nearly his entire time with the sheriff’s department finally come to a close.

“We wanted to find out who this person was,” Dreckman said. “I’m glad this new technology could finally do that.”

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