NEW YORK CITY (WPIX) — It’s been more than 23 years since a young man was found dead in a subway station on New York City’s Lower East Side on Aug. 8, 2000.
He was 5’11’ with dark hair that was slicked back, a thin mustache and a goatee.
Aside from two vertical scars on his torso, what stood out most about the unidentified individual was a large “killer clown” tattoo on his upper right arm with the name Elizabeth underneath it.
“It definitely looked like a 1990s-style tattoo to me,” Michelle Myles, owner of Daredevil Tattoos in New York City, told Nexstar’s WPIX. “When I was tattooing on the Lower East Side in the 1990s, that was a very popular tattoo to get. All the gangsters basically wanted these mean, killer clowns.”
The forensic anthropologists at the Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) have been committed to discovering his name for years. An examination of his back molar, which hadn’t fully erupted, and clavicle put his estimated age between 16 and 20 years old.
“The last bone in the body we use (for age estimates) is your clavicle, or collar bone,” said Dr. Angela Soler, assistant director of forensic anthropology at OCME. “An unfused medial clavicle is going to be a younger individual. His was unfused.”
Soler told WPIX that John Doe was disinterred around 2010, after the OCME received a federal grant, and his DNA was extracted. But there was no “hit” linking him to a family on available databases. That’s when the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children got involved with OCME, offering the services of a forensic artist.
“We’ll use 3-D scanning technology to scan the skull, and that will give us the replica for a 3-D facial reconstruction,” said Dr. Justin Goldstein, a forensic anthropologist at OCME.
The scan and a morgue photo were sent to the forensic artist’s team at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The organization essentially handles cases involving people 18 years of age and younger.
“We’re happy to assist on any missing child case … whether it happened five minutes ago or five years ago,” said NCMEC Vice President John Bischoff.
Colin McNally, the supervising forensic artist, explained how he utilizes the material from the medical examiner’s office.
“So for us, it’s opening of the eyes and presenting the living depiction of that unidentified child or young man or woman … because we would not circulate morgue pictures,” McNally said.
Dubbed New York John Doe 2000, his photo appeared on NCMEC’s “Help ID Me” Facebook page.
Bischoff said his forensic artists have helped with the identification of 338 young human remains since about 2010.
One of the organization’s best-known cases involved a little girl who washed up on Deer Island in Massachusetts in 2015.
The forensic artists at NCMEC used her morgue photo and scans to create an image that went viral and was viewed by millions worldwide.
“She was identified about three months after the images were created,” Colin McNally said. “A member of the public identified her as a young girl named Bella Bond. She was a South Boston resident who had known the little girl, who had wondered what happened to her.”
Bella Bond was a homicide victim.
The case of the “killer clown” tattoo is not a homicide. The medical examiner’s office said it won’t release a cause of death before next of kin is notified.
Bischoff said he is hopeful the tattoo will be the key to solving the mystery of New York John Doe 2000.
“We think the right individual seeing that tattoo may be able to give that individual back his name,” Bischoff said.
Anyone with information on this case can contact NCMEC at 1-800-The Lost or the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in New York City at (212) 447-2030 and ask for the Cold Case unit.