New technology helped KSP identify cold case victim

Genealogical testing hadn’t been invented when the body of a man, missing his hands and feet, was discovered on a Daviess County farm in 1990.

The killer, or killers, took pains to hide the victim’s identity: In addition to having his hands and feet removed, the victim’s teeth were knocked out, and he had suffered both being beaten with a blunt object and shot in the head.

With little to go on, Kentucky State Police technicians worked to gather and preserve as much evidence as they could.

The technicians couldn’t have hoped for great leaps in technology to provide leads in the case decades later. But their careful collection of evidence provided the materials for modern science to identify the victim.

KSP announced last week that William Dennis Mathews, of Louisville, was positively identified as the victim in the grisly 1990 homicide. With Mathews’ finally given a name, investigators will be able to interview his friends and family members in the search for more leads.

“Now, it gives us an identity that opens up a whole new avenue to go down,” said Trooper Corey King, public affairs officer for KSP in Henderson. “It gives us at least names.”

The hope, King said, is the new information will lead to a possible suspect, and that, “I venture to say that is going to break open this case.”

Mathews was identified by the Trans Doe Task Force, a nonprofit organization that performs genealogical testing in cases involving missing and murdered people believed to be LGBTQ+, and particularly transgender.

Investigators referred to it as the “handless, footless” case. Attempts to identify Mathews were stymied. Investigators thought they had identified him in 2007, and ever released a name, only to find they were mistaken in 2009.

“We never worked one quite like that before,” said Anthony Redgrave, one of the founders of Trans Doe Task Force.

King said cold cases are reviewed by detectives, and that investigators in the post’s Henderson bureau came up with idea of contacting the Trans Doe Task Force.

“When you have new detectives review these cases, they come up with new ideas,” King said. “They knew there was a Task Force. We have a group of new detectives and they are pretty eager, and they are looking at cutting edge technology.”

The genealogical analysis done by the Trans Doe Task Force relies on samples uploaded by people into GEDmatch, which allows people to compare DNA results from testing sites with others. The Task Force has access to GEDmatch samples from people who have opted in to have their DNA used for law enforcement matches.

Analysts using a sample of Mathew’s DNA were able to get a likely match with members of Mathews’ family, and sent their findings to KSP, Redgrave said. “The big thing that happened here is ... we passed on the information to the agency; they reached out to the family and got a confirmatory (DNA) test,” Redgrave said.

The Task Force focuses on cases of missing LGBTQ+ people, because cases involving the LGBTQ+ community can sometimes be “deprioritized” by law enforcement, Redgrave said.

There have also been cases were a trans person has been misidentified as the wrong gender, Redgrave said.

Focusing on DNA that shows family connections removes false leads, Redgrave said. Genealogical testings to find matches is a new way to identify victims of crime, Redgrave said.

“This has gone on since fingerprinting was discovered,” Redgrave said.

Later, Redgrave said, “every time there is a jump like that (in technology), there is a push to go back and get cases solved.”

King said: “All of those people doing research on their family tree are helping us (find) identities (of victims) in these cases. Sometimes, it helps us identify suspects.” Not much is know about Mathews thus far, King said. Previous reports say that Mathews had been sexually assaulted during the incident, but officials have not determined why Mathews might have been in Daviess County, or if he was killed elsewhere and dumped.

King said the crime investigators who responded to the initial report of Mathews’ body being found deserved credit for preserving evidence in a way that it could be used for testing decades later. “They were able to preserve the right kind of evidence,” King said.

The Henderson post has had some preliminary success using outside agencies like the Trans Doe Task Force for genealogical testing, he said, but that he couldn’t discuss those cases.

King said the Task Force’s work is a help to Mathews’ family. “It’s a way to at least give the family closure,” King said. “They were excited to get closure.”