Skeleton found in chimney of Madison, Wisconsin music store identified after 34 years

MADISON, Wis. — After more than three decades, DNA researchers and authorities have identified a skeleton found in the chimney of a Madison, Wisconsin music store.

Owners of the Good ‘n Loud Music store found the “Dane County Chimney Doe” on Sept. 3, 1989 while removing a boiler, according to the DNA Doe Project. They first saw a skull through a pipe before discoverting the full skeleton, which was wearing an iron cross necklace and rotted clothing. A forensic autopsy revealed the remains belonged to a White man between 18 and 35 years old. He stood about 5’7″ tall.

The DNA Doe Project worked with the Madison Police Department to identify the remains. On Monday, the project announced the ID: Ronnie Joe Kirk of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Ronnie Joe Kirk / Credit: FBI/Smithsonian Institute

Ronnie Joe Kirk / Credit: FBI/Smithsonian Institute

Madison police contacted the DNA Doe Project in 2019, 30 years after the skeleton’s discovery, for help in identifying it using a new DNA investigaton method. Astrea Forensics Laboratory of Santa Cruz took DNA from a rootless hair to develop a profile for the remains, which took more than two years. Then, the DNA Doe Project traced familial connections until it marked Kirk as a positive ID.

“This was such a unique case with adoption, and multiple generations of different marriages, despite having a relatively close DNA relative match in the family,” Gwen Knapp of the DNA Doe Project said. “The shrewd genealogy work done by my team was amazing to tease out the various relationships. We’re so excited that we can give Ronnie Kirk his name back and hope his family has some closure for Ronnie being missing for so long.”

Kirk’s last-known ties were in Madison. It’s unclear how he got into the chimney, but it would have been impossible for him to get in from inside the building, the DNA Doe Project said. His cause of death is still unknown.

The DNA Doe Project is a nonprofit that says it “utilizes cutting-edge techniques to analyze DNA samples and build family trees, helping law enforcement solve Jane and John Doe cases of unidentified individuals.” Since its founding in 2017, the organization has helped identify dozens of unknown people and has dozens more cases under active investigation.

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