Four human bodies that were found on the Eastern Shore — but never identified


BY TED SHOCKLEY, Eastern Shore Post —

On Aug. 14, 1995, human remains were found on Castaway Drive in Captains Cove, part of a collection body parts found over several weeks near Chincoteague and Assateague islands that were determined to come from one person.

On Oct. 13, 1974, a Black man was fatally injured when he walked into the northbound passing lane of Route 13 in Painter and into the path of a Greyhound bus.

On Jan. 16, 1971, the body of a Black male was found near Willis Wharf in a muddy area of marsh, its hands and feet missing.

On Jan. 16, 1950, the body of a White male were found on a beach near Eastville still wearing gabardine pants and brown shoes.

The human remains recovered in each of the cases have never been identified — no names, no hometowns, no ages.

Even though all four cases made regional newspapers, family and friends of the missing were never located.

There were no funerals and no headstones inscribed with their names. From somewhere they vanished — and their bodies appeared on the Eastern Shore.

“We don’t know the names of these people, but they were somebody’s someone,” said Lara Newell, the coordinator for long-term unidentified remains for the state’s health department.

Newell works to find the names and families of the hundreds of unidentified remains that have been found across Virginia.

Somewhere, there are relatives and friends who wonder where they went or why they disappeared.

“As a mom — but also as a person — I would hate to never know, if I were in this situation,” she said.

The circumstances of how the remains were found — three were discovered completely by accident by people living their workaday lives — lend a haunting aura to what are authentic Eastern Shore mysteries.

‘All these clues’

During the Halloween season, people seek out manufactured opportunities to be startled or spooked.

But during the summer of 1995, pieces of a horrifying puzzle continued to wash up on the shores of Chincoteague Bay.

A headless, limbless torso was found in the Captains Cove neighborhood near the shoreline, according to a newspaper report.

Weeks earlier, a human foot was found on Assateague Island. A leg was found three days later on Chincoteague Island.
A week later, a foot was found in a shoe.

It all was determined to be from the same White male, said Newell — there were no duplicate bones and the clothing was similar, said Newell.

According to NamUs, a national website for the missing and unidentified, clothing on the body were a New York City subway token and a red ink pen inscribed “Lipizzana Restaurant, 987 Second Ave. N.Y.”

“You have to take all these clues,” said Newell, who has researched missing persons from New York in search of a match.

Also found with the body were the typical trappings of an ordinary day: a tube of ChapStick, a black comb, headphones — and, in a dark irony, a pack of Lifesavers candy.

Newell said modern scientific developments like genetic matching have assisted with searches.

Years ago, the remains would have been interred in an anonymous grave.

But in recent decades, unidentified remains have been held by the state — so the bodies won’t need to be exhumed when matches are made.

The body of the man found at Captains Cove and around Chincoteague Bay almost 30 years ago has never been interred.

“We keep them at the office until identified,” said Newell. “We would like to give them back to their families.”

‘Very limited information

The Eastern Shore has at least two characteristics that complicate naming unidentified remains.

One is that it is surrounded on three sides by tidal waters.

“People can go into the water from anywhere,” said Newell. “Sometimes they wash up in Virginia.”

The area also historically has hosted thousands of migrant laborers each summer to harvest crops. Language barriers and distance from relatives made identifying remains harder.

The man who was hit in 1974 by a Greyhound bus in Painter was “believed to be a migrant laborer living at a nearby camp,” according to a newspaper account.

The skeleton found in 1971 near Willis Wharf in a section of marsh near a farm field “was found near the site of a migrant labor camp,” a newspaper article reported.

“One police officer said there are indications the skeleton was that of a small person, possibly a teenager,” the article read.

Newspaper coverage in 1950 of the recovery of a White man’s body at a beach near Eastville included specific dental records.

“The man had one gold jaw tooth and one molar missing,” the story revealed.

The only other clue that could lead to his identity was “a laundry mark on his shirt.” The piece of clothing was sent to the FBI in Washington, D.C., the article stated.

Almost 74 years later, Newell doesn’t have many other clues about the case — or about the others involving Accomack and Northampton counties.

“For these, we have very limited information,” she said.

Somewhere, there are relatives and friends who wonder where they went or why they disappeared.

Their bodies were found on Eastern Shore of Virginia, known to absolutely nobody.

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