|Detectives with the Kingsport Police Department Criminal Investigations Division have successfully solved an unidentified remains cold case that has been under persistent investigation for the past seventeen years.
The case began for K.P.D. on August 11, 2003 when unidentified human remains were discovered in the Holston River, adjacent to Riverfront Park, along the 1800 block of Netherland Inn Road in Kingsport. A previously released narrative (included at the end of this release) provides a detailed outline of the investigation throughout the years that followed.
The case was originally assigned to K.P.D. Detective David Joe Cole, who facilitated a clay model forensic rendering of the decedent. Following Detective Cole’s retirement, the case was transferred to Detective Sergeant Martin Taylor, who facilitated an updated artistic forensic rendering of the decedent. Numerous leads were diligently followed up on through the years, but none ever led to a positive identification of the decedent.
On June 16, 2020 K.P.D. Detectives received information that a private citizen was researching missing persons cases as a hobby and had noticed some striking similarities between this unidentified remains cold case and a missing person cold case reported to the Charleston, West Virginia Police Department after a man had gone missing in that jurisdiction on August 4, 2003.
After further investigation, K.P.D. Detectives were able to locate and interview a relative of the missing person from Charleston, WV. This relative provided a familial DNA sample which was then compared to a DNA sample taken from the unidentified human remains found in Kingsport. While DNA analysis existed in 2003, this technology has continued to see significant advancements and improve dramatically throughout the years.
The DNA comparison was conclusive, resulting in a positive identification of the human remains as Jerry D. Holbert of Charleston, West Virginia. At the time of his unexplained disappearance, Mr. Holbert was 64 years of age and reportedly suffered from dementia. He is believed to have left his residence, walking toward the bus station, with plans to visit a relative in Ohio. When he didn’t arrive at his intended destination, he was reported missing.
It is unknown how or why Mr. Holbert ended up in Kingsport, but it is suspected that he might have mistakenly boarded the wrong bus due to his dementia. The circumstances surrounding how he ultimately ended up in the Holston River remain a mystery, but based upon the investigation and autopsy, foul play is not now, nor was it ever suspected.
Mr. Holbert’s next of kin have been notified. It is our hope that this helps bring some closure to his family, friends, and loved ones.
For comparison purposes, photos of the 2004 clay model forensic rendering, the 2018 artistic forensic rendering, and an actual photograph of Jerry D. Holbert have all been included in this release.
The Kingsport Police Department would like to thank the following individuals and organizations who were instrumental in bringing this case to a conclusion:
– Margaret Press with the DNA Doe Project, Sebastopol, California
– Colleen Fitzpatrick with Identifiers International
– Laura Beth Parsons, MD with the East Tennessee State University—William L. Jenkins Forensic Center
– Dixie Peters, Amy Jenkinson, and Todd Matthews with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs)
– Joanna Hughes, Forensic Artist for the Clay Model Forensic Rendering in 2004
– Catyana Falsetti and Terrie Simmons-Ehrhardt with George Mason University for the updated Artistic Forensic Rendering in 2018
– Patty Williams Childress of Jones, Oklahoma for her Amateur Research into Missing Persons Cold Cases
– Dr. Lee Meadows Jantz with the University of Tennessee Department of Anthropology
– Detective Sergeant Martin Taylor and the late Detective David Joe Cole with the Kingsport Police Department for their diligent work on this case throughout the years
As previously released on June 13, 2018:
The Kingsport Police Department is hoping that releasing recently obtained forensic artwork, and bringing some renewed attention to an unsolved 2003 unidentified human remains investigation, may help bring closure to the case.
On the morning of August 11, 2003 a woman called Kingsport Central Dispatch in reference to a suspicious object that she had seen in the Holston River, while bicycling through Riverfront Park, along the 1800 block of Netherland Inn Road. Another citizen soon approached first responders, telling them that he had seen the same object in the river the previous morning (August 10, 2003), but was unsure of what exactly it was.
The object was located approximately 20 yards off shore and approximately 75 yards downstream from the viewing point. Through the use of binoculars, responding Kingsport Police Patrol Officers were able to identify the object in question as human remains.
The Kingsport Fire Department’s Swiftwater Rescue Team responded and worked with Officers to photograph the remains and ultimately retrieve and relocate them to the shoreline. Due to extensive time in the water and the advanced level of decomposition, the decedent was no longer recognizable. The case was turned over to the K.P.D. Criminal Investigations Division.
The remains were sent to Holston Valley Medical Center for initial inspection, and then forwarded to East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine in Johnson City for autopsy. The autopsy report revealed that the remains had been in the water for approximately 7-10 days. There was no indication of trauma or foul play, and the probable cause of death was determined to be drowning.
The decedent was believed to have been a white male adult with gray or partly gray hair, approximately 40-80 years old, measuring 6 feet tall, and weighing an estimated 180 pounds. When his remains were recovered, he was wearing a white button up shirt with blue and burgundy stripes, blue jeans, black shoes, and a two-tone silver and gold watch with a black face.
There was no form of identification found with the remains. The only clue that Detectives had to go on was a BB&T bank envelope, containing $267 cash, found in the decedent’s pocket. At the time, there were no BB&T bank locations in Kingsport, with the closest branches being in Saltville and Chilhowie, Virginia and Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
The remains were ultimately transferred to the University of Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropology Department in Knoxville. In June 2004, anthropologists provided Detectives with a clay model rendition providing their best scientific guess as to what the decedent possibly looked like.
All of this information, including a photo of the clay model, was released to the public via the media at the time, and then again several times over the years that followed. While several leads were developed during that time, all have been thoroughly investigated and exhausted, and none have led to the positive identification of the decedent.
This case has also been featured on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) online database, which is accessible via the following link:
Thanks to advancements in forensic science, K.P.D. Detectives have recently received a new forensic artist interpretation of the decedent which they hope may help to develop new leads in this cold case investigation. This, like the earlier clay model rendition, is a best scientific guess as to what the decedent possibly looked like.
The artwork was completed and donated by Catyana Falsetti, who is a forensic artist with Project EDAN (Everyone Deserves a Name). The artwork was submitted to NamUs through its headquarters at the University of North Texas, Center for Human Identification, Forensic Services Unit, who in turn forwarded it to K.P.D. Detectives.
This recent forensic artist interpretation of the decent has been included with this release. Detectives are asking for people to view this image, with the understanding that this is what the decedent might have possibly looked like fifteen years ago around the time of his death.
Anyone who recognizes the face depicted in this image, or who may have any additional information which may help solve this case, is asked to contact Detectives in the K.P.D. Criminal Investigations Division at 423-229-9429 or call Kingsport Central Dispatch at 423-246-9111. Any and all tips and leads will be greatly appreciated and thoroughly investigated.