A forensic analysis now underway in Alabama could confirm that skeletal remains found last week near Crow Mountain are those of a 72-year-old Decatur, Ala., man who went missing in October 2016.
James Robert Elliott Jr., diagnosed with Alzheimer's, was reported missing Oct. 11, 2016, after he vanished from his home in Decatur in a 1998 Ford Explorer. Authorities do not suspect foul play.
Jackson County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Rocky Harnen said a hunter on Feb. 9 found what he believed was a human skull and some bones near Hytop Cemetery in the same area searched in the months after Elliott's disappearance.
Elliott's Ford Explorer was found in the Hytop area in November 2016 when sheriff's deputies and members of the Decatur Police Department's SWAT team searched the area, according to reports in The Decatur Daily newspaper. The effort continued for two days with no results.
Harnen said Wednesday that Elliott's wallet and some clothing were found in November 2017 within "walking distance" from the site where his vehicle was found a year before.
"Our guys went out there Saturday and located several bones — skeletal remains. They are human," Harnen said. He said officials strongly suspect the remains are Elliott's.
"We looked for him probably a month or so after he was missing because a homeowner found his vehicle in a wooded area near his house," Harnen recalled of efforts to locate Elliott in 2016.
Recovery of the remains is not complete, he said.
"Because of the rain they weren't able to search like they would've liked to," Harnen said.
"Once it dries up we're going to go back — because it's very wet down in that area — and look for more remains," the chief deputy said, "but at this point we suspect it was him because he's the only one we've got missing in that area."
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.