Joseph "JoeEd" Edwards

Forty-five years ago this July, 25-year-old Joseph "JoeEd" Edward was last seen at his jobs as a porter and handyman at the Shamrock Hotel in Vidalia.

THE BONE LADY — LSU'S MARY MANHEIN — MAY BE ABLE TO ANSWER THAT QUESTION

Could a human skull found in Clayton six years ago be part of the remains of Joseph "JoeEd" Edwards, the Shamrock Motel porter reported missing and presumed dead since July 12, 1964?

LSU forensic anthropologist Mary H. Manhein, known nationally as "The Bone Lady," has a program in place that can answer that question.

The mother of 25-year-old JoeEd Edwards reported him missing to the FBI in Natchez after her son's car was found a few days after his disappearance. The car was found on the street behind the old bowling alley on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy.

Bloodstains were found inside the car and Edwards' mother told the FBI that "the Klan" was responsible for her son's disappearance.

Manhein said the family of Edwards should file a missing persons report in Concordia Parish, and then consider providing a DNA sample. That may not solve the mystery of the human skull found at Clayton in 2002, but it could answer whether it is the remains of Edwards.

"We're building a data base for missing persons, but someone has to file a report with a police agency for it to be entered into our program," said Manhein. She said the missing person's parents or children provide the best DNA samples, while siblings are the next best.

Manhein visited Clayton six years ago after a Shady Lane resident called the Concordia Parish Sheriff's Office to report that her dog found a skull.

"I remember that day well," said Manhein, who along with some of her LSU anthropology students came to Concordia in mid-November 2002, collected the skull and did a brief scan of the area. "We could stay only that afternoon."

Since that time, DNA was extracted from the skull and that information entered into CODIS, a national database containing DNA profiles from missing persons, convicted offenders and unsolved crime scene evidence.

In 2006, the Louisiana Legislature passed Act 227 which designated Manhein's lab at LSU — the Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services (FACES) — as the central repository for "all unidentified human remains information and all missing person data collected" in Louisiana.

Manhein said the lab has created a biological database on hundreds of unidentified human remains including age, sex, race, ancestry and "all identifying factors" including DNA.

Additionally, law enforcement and criminal justice agencies must submit all unidentified remains found in Louisiana to FACES "after reasonable efforts to identify the person have failed."

"As FACES is now Louisiana's repository for biological information and DNA profiles on all cases of unidentified and missing people in Louisiana," said Manhein, "we are slowly visiting all the parishes to collect data on the unidentified and missing persons there. We are contacting the coroners, sheriff's offices and all police departments to gather case information."

According to the Concordia Parish Sheriff's Office report, the skull found at Clayton was missing a lower jaw and there was a small hole in the forehead. The sheriff's office reported that the skull appeared to have suffered some type of trauma.

Manhein said the skull has yet to be identified.

"The face wasn't there, but it is that of a black male, although there is a possibility it is Native American," said Manhein. The Bone Lady recalled that a lot near where the skull was discovered was covered with debris and she may consider returning to the site for further study.

"It would be a major effort," she said. "This skull could have been from three to 10 years old at the time of discovery or much, much older. In my mind I remember thinking that this might be a case we might not ever identify."

However, she says the fact that Edwards was living with his grandparents in the Clayton area and was reported missing in Concordia Parish makes the possibilities interesting.

Syracuse University law student Shayne Burnham made the initial contact with Manhein concerning the Edwards case. Burnham is one of 15 Syracuse students volunteering this summer for the Cold Case Justice Initiative, under the direction of law professors Janis McDonald and Paula Johnson. They are investigating Civil Rights-era cold case murders, including that of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris.

JoeEd Edwards was Julia Dobbins' half-brother. Their mother was Bernice Conner, who died almost two decades ago. A resident of Bridge City, La., Dobbins said Monday she planned to contact Manhein to discuss the DNA issues and other matters relating to her brother's case.

Manhein said, however, that unidentified bones from the 1960s "could be gone forever, lost, buried somewhere in a paupers' grave yard, or in the back of somebody's office. This could be the case anywhere in the country."

In the matter of identifying the skull found at Clayton, Manhein says there's always hope, even for the old cases such as Edwards, who's been missing for 44 years.

Manhein said a 32-year-old mystery was recently resolved. The skeletal remains of a young, Hispanic male found in northwestern Louisiana in the late 1970s has been identified as those of a man reported missing in Texas in 1976.

In her book, "The Bone Lady: Life as a Forensic Anthropologist," Manhein points to several difficult cases that were solved through forensic anthropology.

"Who knows?" she said, adding, "This Edwards' case is so sad."

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