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X-rays, TV may help ID remains of child

Attempts to identify a little boy found dead roughly 46 years ago in a reservoir in the hills east of Ashland are getting a potential boost from dental X-rays and television cameras.

A Jackson County Sheriff's Department team trying to find the name of a toddler discovered wrapped in blankets and wire in Keene Creek Reservoir in July 1963 is getting help from a Medford dental practice and a Portland television station.

Last summer — 45 years after the child was found, then buried in an unmarked grave at Hillcrest Memorial Park — the team exhumed the body. With DNA testing and facial reconstruction from the skull, team members hoped to unravel the mystery that had stymied their predecessors' best efforts decades earlier and sent the case deep into the department's forgotten archives, where sheriff's department volunteer special investigator Jim Tattersall discovered it and brought it to light.

Reconstruction illustrations by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children released in March didn't offer any concrete leads, and DNA collection and matching still is under way at Center for Human Identification at the University of North Texas, investigators said.

Although they haven't yet cracked the case, tips and offers of help continue to pour in from diverse sources, Jackson County sheriff's Detective Sgt. Colin Fagan said.

In May, Hal Borg and Greg Pearson, dentists at East Main Dental Clinic, volunteered to examine and X-ray the boy's tiny skull to help confirm his age and learn more about an unusual tooth deformity — a bifurcated lower front tooth that has two roots and a surface split by an odd groove.

Borg, Pearson and their technicians stayed after work one day to make film and digital X-rays of the toddler's teeth and jaws and evaluate them, Fagan said.

They concluded the boy was 1 year and 11 months old, at the low end of the range estimated by initial investigators in the 1960s and a forensic anthropologist who examined the body last year. Looking at the boy's tooth development, the dentists were confident that they could peg his age at his death to within one week, Fagan said.

They also determined the child clearly had characteristics of Down syndrome, as well as birth defects and developmental problems consistent with congenital syphilis.

Syphilis transmitted through the placenta to the child before birth could have led to his death, but investigators can't determine now how likely that might have been, Fagan said. The possibility probably wasn't even considered when the boy was found. The condition of the body at the time prevented finding a clear cause of death in an autopsy or even concluding how long the body had been in the water, original case files said.

Fagan said the team plans to seek additional medical expertise to pursue details.

Investigators also expect to seek help from the dentists again in future cases.

"Now we have another resource," Fagan said.

Jackson County Deputy Medical Examiner Tim Pike said their specialized knowledge would benefit his office's efforts to identify victims.

"This case has been a conduit to improving (our work on) all missing-person cases," Fagan said.

The case also caught the eye of a Portland television anchor and reporter, Jeff Gianola. He has an occasional series exploring cold cases from around the state with in-depth stories and decided to feature the unknown boy in the reservoir.

Fagan said Gianola's past stories have garnered tips for police, and local investigators were eager to reach the large audience of KOIN Channel 6, a Portland CBS affiliate with a network of translators that spread its signal into Washington and across Central and Eastern Oregon.

"It will reach an area we haven't connected with," Fagan said.

Gianola and a cameraman came to Southern Oregon last month to film investigators, old records and key locations from the cold case, Fagan said. The feature they produced is set to air today at 11 p.m. there and likely will be shown in Southern Oregon later.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.