CLEVELAND — The identification of skeletal human remains found recently in McMinn County has cleared a 7-year-old cold case from Fort Oglethorpe, where a man believed to be suffering from some medical issues vanished in 2016.
The remains found Oct. 19 by hunters in a wooded area off Highway 30 west of Athens, Tennessee, have been identified as those of David Dewayne Abbott, who was 43 when his loved ones last heard from him on June 22, 2016, McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy said during a news conference in Cleveland.
Steve Blevins, a retired detective from the Fort Oglethorpe Police Department, was on top of the case as soon as the body was found and sent for a forensic autopsy at the Knox County Regional Forensics Center in Knoxville, Guy said. The sheriff arranged the news conference in Cleveland to keep Blevins from having to drive all the way to Athens.
"On Monday, we were contacted by retired Fort Oglethorpe Detective Steve Blevins about the possibility of the person being related to a case Detective Blevins had worked in 2016," Guy said. "Detective Blevins contacted the forensics center about his cold case, and they were able to confirm the identification as David Abbott, of Fort Oglethorpe."
Abbott's was Fort Oglethorpe's only unsolved missing person case. Blevins said Abbott has no living parents or siblings, and he said the only remaining family member was his ex-wife, who kept hoping he'd be found.
In 2016, Blevins was the investigator when the case was originally a missing person case for the Fort Oglethorpe Police Department and stood beside Abbott's ex-wife, Regina Darlene Snyder, during a 2016 new conference.
Snyder said Abbott, missing for only a matter of hours at that point, suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and had not been taking his medication for about a month, Snyder said. He'd begun talking about seeing and hearing things that weren't in the room, she said. Abbott also had numerous other health issues.
Snyder found Abbott's apartment door open, and he was gone, leaving behind everything but his keys, phone and wallet, according to her 2016 account. Around 12:30 a.m. on June 23, 2016, Abbott called Snyder's daughter and told her he was in Knoxville. That was the last they heard from him.
McMinn County officers found Abbott's abandoned silver Nissan pickup truck the next day off County Road 126, Blevins said during the 2016 conference. Neighbors in the area and people who worked nearby at the time said they saw a man who looked like Abbott in the area, but they didn't know where he went.
Blevins has searched the area where the truck was found on numerous occasions, he said.
"I personally have walked all over that area myself, and I know the family had been up there passing out bulletins and trying to generate some leads," Blevins said.
Closing the case is important to Blevins, and his emotions showed as he spoke.
"We appreciate all the cooperation we've had over the years since David Abbott went missing," Blevins said during the news conference in Cleveland. "Without that, we wouldn't have made it to today. The forensic center in Knoxville did an amazing job, faster than I thought would be possible. The family has been notified. Understandably, they're distraught, but at the same time, they know they're going to get to bring David home."
Guy and Blevins said they believe Abbott likely died not long after he walked from his truck to the woods, where he was found. Guy recalled that June in 2016 was very hot. No evidence of foul play has been found.
"Detective Blevins and our officers had communicated several times over the past six years about this case," Guy said in a statement he provided on the cold case. "So we are fortunate to have located Mr. Abbott, confirm his identity and bring some peace to his family. We appreciate the assistance of the Fort Oglethorpe Police Department, but especially Detective Blevins, who even in his retirement kept working on this case."
Fort Oglethorpe police Detective John Lanham said the identification of the remains will officially close Abbott's case, according to the statement.
Guy and Blevins both said they will continue to be a contact for resources the family might need.