In 1982, 19-year-old William Joseph “Billy” Lewis attended a funeral in Texas then left to return to his home in Peru, Indiana, hitchhiking his way across the US.
He was never seen alive again.
In the many years to come, both of his parents would die without ever knowing what had happened to their son. But thanks to advances in forensic science and a determined Jasper County coroner, Billy Lewis has finally come home.
In October 1983, a fox hunter stumbled upon human remains in a rural Jasper County field. Despite collecting clothing and other evidence from the scene, including a distinctive Zippo lighter engraved with the name “Arlene,” police were unable to match the John Doe with any missing person report. No one stepped forward to claim the body. Eventually, Officer Paul Ricker, who was the first officer on the scene when the unidentified remains were discovered, and other first responders crowdfunded a gravestone for “John Doe” at the Sayler Makeever Cemetery.
The first break in the case came in 1994 when, two days after murderer Larry Eyler died in prison, his attorney Kathleen Zellner announced that he had confessed to killing more than 20 men in the late 70’s and early 80’s, including “Jasper County John Doe.” According to the serial killer, he’d picked up the victim on November 20, 1982, as the young man was hitchhiking alone on US 41 near Vincennes. After he got the man selected at random into his vehicle, Eyler gave him beer and Placidyl, a powerful sedative, and then began driving north. Once they reached Jasper County,the hitchhiker was reportedly “semiconscious” and unable to defend himself. Eyler stabbed the victim to death before burying him in a shallow grave.
Despite Eyler’s confession, he claimed not to know the name of the victim referred to as “Jasper County John Doe.” Although DNA was first used in a criminal case in 1986, it still was not widely in use at the time and, without any other leads, the case went cold.
It would remain that way until this past January, when Jasper County Coroner Andrew Boersma hired a geneological forensics company, Redgrave Research Forensic Services, to help identify the Eyler victim. Researchers were able to link DNA taken from “John Doe” to Lewis’s extended family through a geneology website, and it eventually led them to his siblings. Almost 40 years after his death, Billy Lewis reclaimed his identity.
Now that he has finally been found, Billy’s surviving family members plan on giving him a funeral then reinterring him next to his father.