After an extended period of waiting for forensic work to be completed, the Jackson Police Department can now positively and publicly identify the man whose badly decomposed body was discovered almost a full year ago in a water-filled ditch in the Sarah James Industrial Park.
The body was that of Michael Louis Davis, 69, of Lancaster, who was described as homeless and as a drifter by police department investigators who worked the case. Police made a tentative identification the same day his body was discovered, based on identification found on the body, but the badly decomposed condition of the body prevented a visual confirmation. A forensic confirmation was finally achieved in faraway Texas, but it did not happen easily or quickly and the lack of an announcement to identify the body and establish a cause of death fueled speculation and rumors in the community and on social media. Police were indeed relieved to recently stamp a "case closed" on the file.
Police report that on or about Feb. 20, 2017, the University of North Texas Health and Science Center was able to confirm that the body was that of Davis, based on DNA evidence. His closest relatives, including a sister and two sons, were notified of the results.
While the condition of the body prevented the Franklin County Coroner's Office from making a ruling on the cause of death, it's believed that no foul play was involved. There were no signs of trauma to the skull or skeleton and nothing found at the scene to suggest anything sinister had occurred. Investigators speculate Davis could have injured himself if he fell down a steep embankment into the ditch where his body was found or that he may have died from some other medical situation or condition.
While Davis most recently had a Lancaster address, police said he was originally from Jackson, had local contacts here and apparently had been staying in Jackson some around the period just prior to his death, which police feel could have occurred at least two months -- if not longer -- before his body was found.
Davis' body was discovered on the morning of May 25, 2016 lying in a ditch on an unoccupied section of the Sarah James Industrial Park, located approximately 350 feet southwest of Acy Avenue. Two employees from Beaver Excavating who were working on the U.S. 35 overpass project made the grisly discovery. The ditch was about four feet deep and had approximately one foot of water in it. Items found near the body included a walking stick, a cap, shampoo and soap bottles from a Quality Inn, a long-sleeved shirt, a pair of gloves, and a Scotch bottle.
Police found an Ohio ID card and a Jackson County Veterans Service Office card in the deceased's pockets. In a subsequent interview, Jackson County Veterans Service Officer Arnold Tripp recalled speaking with a Davis "a couple of months" earlier and instructing him on how to fill out an application form. Tripp also said Davis's family members had called, asking Tripp to ask Davis to contact them if Davis came back to the office, but he did not do so.
Police then spoke with a Chillicothe VA Hospital physician who had treated Davis and learned that Davis had a long history of medical issues and that he was basically homeless and had been living in and out of homeless shelters, the most recent one being in Lancaster.
An autopsy was conducted by the Franklin County Coroner's Office, then the body was later sent to an Ohio State University forensic pathologist in a vain effort to determine a time and cause of death. Police then contacted the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification's DNA Laboratory and learned that it would need DNA samples from known family members as well as a femur (thigh bone) from the deceased. These DNA samples were retrieved from Davis' sister and his two sons, but it was determined that further testing would have to take place at University of North Texas Health and Science Center.
Once the samples and femur were in Texas, there was another long wait because of the amount of testing being done at the site and because the Jackson case did not involve a crime and was not considered an emergency situation.
"You just have to wait your turn," the Jackson Police investigator stated.
But the final DNA evidence confirmed what police had thought from day one - that the deceased was Michael Louis Davis.