File No. 79160846 had a leg brace, two change purses and a hotel key in his pocket when he collapsed in a Safeway in 1979. But nearly four decades after he died, no one knows his name.
So the man, who was referred to as Mr. X at the time, was buried anonymously in plot 95 at Edmonton’s Beechmount cemetery. His family and friends, if he had any, don’t know.
Every year in Alberta, more than 50 people are buried, like Mr. X, without a name or an identity. In 2015, the remains of 56 unidentified or unclaimed people in the province were buried. In 2014, there were 64 and in 2013 there were 89.
The medical examiner’s office uses a number of methods to try to identify remains, including anthropological analysis of the bones to determine gender and age, and facial reconstruction from bones.
That one always stood out to me as being more solvable. Ones where you have a body in the river, where it’s decayed and it’s hard to get fingerprints, it’s very difficult … In this case, he’s still in one piece
But sometimes, after years pass without a match, the body or remains are released to the provincial government’s office of the public guardian and trustee for burial. They remain in the system as cold cases.
The Edmonton police’s missing persons unit has five such cases, including Mr. X. Three were found in the river: the body of both a man and a woman and leg bones. Another is the body of a woman found dead in a backyard from natural causes. The unit handles the human remain cases that are not believed to be suspicious.
The Mr. X case has stumped police for 36 years, even though it’s one of the most detailed files. That’s why unit Sgt. Neil Zurawell is digging for new clues, hoping someone out there might recall something.
“That one always stood out to me as being more solvable. Ones where you have a body in the river, where it’s decayed and it’s hard to get fingerprints, it’s very difficult … In this case, he’s still in one piece,” Zurawell said. “There are a lot of little tidbits, little hints as to who he was.”
Dressed in dark green pants, a teal waist-length jacket and a blue peaked cap with a CAT Diesel Power logo, the man collapsed at the Safeway at 10725 97 St., now Lucky 97, and was taken to the Royal Alexandra Hospital. He died from a brain hemorrhage overnight. He had blue eyes and brown-grey hair; he was five-foot-11 and 165 pounds. Police have pegged him between 45 and 65.
The man was wearing a modified metal knee brace, had a brown cane and was missing several teeth. He was carrying two change purses, one for coins and another that had the name Josie written on it. He had a key for room No. 114 at the now demolished Windsor Hotel in Dawson Creek, B.C., in his coat pocket. But he didn’t have a piece of identification on him.
His file says he appeared transient, so officers checked shelters, hostels and taverns showing people his picture in the hopes of identifying him. Nothing came of it.
Fingerprints didn’t turn up any matches. He had no criminal record and was not a veteran. There were no missing persons reports filed that matched his description.
Zurawell thinks there could be someone out there who knows this man and has been wondering all these years where he went.
“We talk to the families of missing people every day. … They would like answers. As years go by, some of them realize on their own, “this doesn’t look good,” but they still always wonder. I think they would still like to at least know what happened or where they ended up,” he said.