The key to Benjaman Kyle's identity could be buried somewhere in Central Point.
Kyle doesn't know his real name or where he comes from. Police found him naked and badly beaten in 2004 behind a Burger King restaurant in Georgia. The beating left him with no memory of his identity, but he retains many complex physical skills and remembers fragments of his past — a condition physicians call retrograde amnesia.
Genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick has established that Benjaman Kyle is related to a family of Davidsons who lived in Central Point from at least 1911 to 1915. She's seeking people who might be related to that family who would be willing to have their DNA analyzed to see how closely they're related to Kyle.
She knows this much about the family:
Kyle's DNA also matches people named Powell who lived in western Oregon including:
Every effort to identify him has failed. The FBI has no match for his fingerprints among the millions in their database. Nothing turned up on military databases. Newspaper and TV stories produced some leads that eventually dead-ended. Inquiries across the South yielded nothing. He has his own Wikipedia page, and he even went on TV's "Dr. Phil" show hoping someone would recognize him.
"It's been five years now," Kyle said in a telephone interview from suburban Savannah, Ga. "I think the odds are getting slimmer as time goes by."
A California genealogist who took up Kyle's case hasn't given up hope. Colleen Fitzpatrick recently discovered a thread of Kyle's family history may well lie in Central Point. Fitzpatrick can say this with certainty because modern technology can analyze Kyle's genetic material and match it with others who have had their DNA analyzed.
"Genetic genealogy has become very popular among genealogists within the past 10 years," she said in a telephone interview.
Fitzpatrick is something of a legend among genealogists. Trained as a nuclear physicist, she found her calling in genealogy. She once used three tiny teeth to establish the identity of an infant who drowned when the Titanic went down. In another case, known as "the arm in the snow," she made a positive identification of human remains 60 years after a plane crashed into a mountain in Alaska.
It happens that Benjaman Kyle's DNA is a good match with members of a family named Davidson who lived in Central Point in the early 1900s. Fitzpatrick has established that Kyle is related to a John McNeil Davidson who died in Central Point in September 1912.
On further analysis, she discovered that Kyle's DNA is also a good match for several people named Powell who lived in Oregon. The long-dead Central Point Davidson's DNA is a close match with the genes of many members of the Powell family.
Fitzpatrick said that means there's a "nonpaternity event" somewhere in Kyle's relatives' past — an adoption, a child born out of wedlock, or a name change driven by who knows what.
"When I saw that my hair caught fire," Fitzpatrick said. "Somebody named Davidson has Powell DNA."
Fitzpatrick is looking for Davidsons who are willing to have their DNA analyzed in the hope that they'll provide clues to Kyle's identity.
"If we can find a Davidson to continue the tests, we can test for more (genetic) factors to give us a better sense of how they're related (to Kyle)."
While Fitzpatrick searches for Kyle's real identity, he survives on the kindness of people who have taken an interest in him. Without a name or a photo ID, he can't do things the rest of us take for granted. He can't work because he doesn't have a Social Security number. He can't drive a car because he can't get a license. A bank account is out of the question.
He lives with a nurse who took an interest in him, and works odd jobs.
He has no recollection of the assault that caused his amnesia. He said police did not investigate it as a crime and filed only a "miscellaneous incident" report.
"The assumption when I was found was that I was a bum lying there," he said.
Kyle appears to be in his late 50s or early 60s. He's developed an identity based on a vague but insistent sense of who he was before the beating.
"I took the name Benjaman because it seems right," he said. "It just feels comfortable.
"I think I'm a Catholic," he continued. "I don't know why. It just seems like I'm a Catholic."
"I shaved off my mustache once," he recalled, "but it just didn't feel right. It's like my name — it just feels comfortable."
Retrograde amnesia is a strange condition because certain memories stored in the brain remain intact, including physical skills. Kyle said he recently drove a truck with a standard transmission and worked the clutch and gears like it was second nature.
"When I got in, my left foot was reaching for the clutch pedal," he said.
He has strong memories of Indianapolis and Colorado, and feels sure he worked in the food service industry.
"I have lots of memories of Indianapolis," he said, "but I don't think I've been in Indianapolis since the late '60s or early '70s."
He also remembers how to read.
"I'm a reader," he said. "I feel sure I've spent a lot of time in libraries."
Fitzpatrick remains convinced she can uncover Kyle's identity.
"There is an answer," she said. "He had a mother. He had a father. He had a car. He had a driver's license."
After so many disappointments, Kyle's not so sure.
"I'm not basing my future on whether that will happen," he said.
"I think eventually my memories will come back," he said. "It's like a name on the tip of your tongue. If you stop and do something else, it will come to you. I have to stop thinking about it, but I can't stop thinking about it."
Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 541-776-4492, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.