SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — When an unidentified man's body was found on the edge of a creek in Marion County alongside Interstate 24 on Dec. 16, 1985, the temperatures had been above average for weeks.
A fisherman made the grisly discovery as he walked along the banks of a small spring branch adjacent to Ellis Road that feeds into Battle Creek north of South Pittsburg, Tenn.
The body had badly decomposed in the unseasonably warm weather and there were no identifying papers found or other leads to a name.
The man has remained unidentified for 32 years. He is considered a "John Doe."
Larry Davis, investigator for the 12th Judicial District Attorney General's Office, is trying to tie the three-decades-old cold case to a name and provide a resolution for a family somewhere who never knew what happened to their roughly 25- to 40-year-old son, brother or significant other.
Davis had the same job in 1985.
It was one of several of young white men's bodies found in the Southeast Tennessee region near interstates 24 and 75 in the 1980s, according to Davis and Times Free Press archives. Davis said at least a couple of those bodies, two found in Marion County about a year apart, might have been the victims of a common killer.
Another man's body was found at the bottom of a cliff on the east side of Mont- eagle Mountain at a scenic overlook off the westbound lanes of I-24 on Dec. 5, 1984. A Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper found the body along with a car reportedly borrowed from a Marion County resident that still had keys in the ignition switch, according to Times Free Press archives.
That man was identified as 33-year-old Jimmy Jones, of Summerville, Ga., whom officials determined had been dead for about 48 hours before he was found. He died of blunt-force trauma, and his death was ruled a homicide and assigned to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
The two sites are about a 12-minute drive apart, and Davis believes the killer might have been familiar with easy-to-reach dump sites near the interstate.
Davis said the last place Jones was seen was at the Go Go Club, a popular gay bar near Warner Park in downtown Chattanooga, the night before his body was found. Davis and another investigator visited the club to talk to the clientele there to see if anyone could link Jones and a potential suspect but they had no luck, he said.
"We also traveled to Georgia to his residence and searched," Davis said of the two cases. "The case was never solved, but I think both cases are connected and committed by the same person."
Davis hopes a link between the two victims, who were killed within a year of each other, can lead to a name for the unidentified man found on the creek bank, an answer for that family and a killer.
An autopsy of the "John Doe" by Dr. Bill Bass, who was the state anthropologist working out of Knoxville at the time, concluded that the man had been dead about a month, had likely fatal fractures to the base of his skull and also had a fractured rib and vertebra.
He was between 5 feet, 10 inches tall and 6 feet, 2 inches tall, dressed in size 32 long Jordache jeans, a size 15 neck L.L. Bean shirt with a long-sleeve blue oxford shirt underneath bearing a label that read "Iveys (GANT) made in Florida, shirtmakers." No shoes were found and no wallet, jewelry or other identifying items were found at the scene.
For Davis, there's a personal interest.
"I want to clear up this case before I die," he said.
"There are loved ones out there," Davis said last week. "His loved ones, his mom and dad, we're obligated to find out who these people are."
Twelfth Judicial District Attorney General Mike Taylor said he hoped to at least find the man's family, if not his killer.
"Investigators developed a person of interest at the time but that person is since deceased," Taylor said.
Taylor believes the unidentified man could be linked to a name if the right family members or friends were found.
"We first thought he might have been from Florida and then Larry thought he might have been from North Georgia, but we were never able to identify him," Taylor said. "He was dressed like somebody who had money."
The John Doe has been listed with the National Crime Information Center, known widely as NCIC, as well as NamUs, a national unidentified persons online network.
Davis and Taylor hope a forensic sketch made in 2002 combined with a description from the autopsy could help lead to the man's identity.
If anyone has any information that might be helpful in the investigation of this cold case, call Larry Davis at the Jasper, Tenn., branch of the 12th Judicial District Attorney General's office at 423-942-5289, the TBI at 615-744-4000 or the Marion County Sheriff's Office at 423-942-2525.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.