‘Chimney Doe,’ skeletal remains found in pipe of Wisconsin music store in 1989, finally identified


The skeletal remains of someone authorities dubbed “Chimney Doe” was identified nearly 35 years after he was found in the pipe of a Madison, Wisconsin, music store.

The circumstances leading to the death of Ronnie Joe Kirk are still a mystery to the Madison Police Department, but Chief Shon Barnes told reporters on Monday he’s hopeful the identification of the remains will lead to new information. According to NBC News affiliate WMTV in Madison, Kirk had connections to Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama and Wisconsin.

“Someone will remember him and we’ll do everything that we can to try to trace down if he worked here, if he lived here or if he was just passing through, or going somewhere else,” Barnes said. “We don’t know.”

Kirk’s remains were found in September 1989 by the owners of Good ‘n Loud music store on University Avenue, in Madison, who noticed a skull visible in a pipe connecting the boiler to the chimney. The skeleton was in what Barnes described as “feminine” clothing and an initial autopsy determined the remains belonged to a white male between ages 18 and 35.

In 2019, detective Lindsey Ludden decided to refer the “Chimney Doe” case over to the DNA Doe Project. The organization was founded just two years earlier and is dedicated to using investigative genetic genealogy to help identify unknown persons.

It took two years to be able to build a genetic profile from DNA extracted from a piece of rootless hair, according to the DNA Doe Project. And that profile led investigators to Ronnie Joe Kirk.

Kirk was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1942 and was an adopted child. Barnes told reporters that they discovered Kirk had been married twice before his death and fathered children, but did not identify his living relatives.

Gwen Knapp, who led the DNA Doe Project team, said she was excited to be able to give “Chimney Doe” his name back.

This was such a unique case with adoption, and multiple generations of different marriages, despite having a relatively close DNA relative match in the family,” Knapp said. “The shrewd genealogy work done by my team was amazing to tease out the various relationships.”

But despite the advance in technology, officials are still not sure how Kirk died or how he ended up in the store’s pipe. Barnes asked the public to come forward if Kirk’s photo or name sparks a memory and “be our partner.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com



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