April 14, 2024

County authorities have tentatively identified a man shot in the head and buried in a shallow desert grave in Arizona nearly 30 years ago as being a former Army soldier.

The remains believed to be Sherman George — who was once stationed at Fort Liberty, North Carolina, and said to frequent the desert with former Army friends — were discovered in 1996 by two men running their dogs near the tri-state border between California, Arizona and Nevada, according to investigators and a forensic lab.

An investigator with the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that George was shot once and buried under a juniper tree outside of the city of Kingman, Arizona, where his remains were found. The investigator said that George was from California, but not much else is known about the man, who became estranged from his family in the early to mid-90s and was never reported missing.

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Now, with the help of DNA testing and genealogy mapping — a technique that has been increasingly used by law enforcement to solve cold cases in recent years — more information about George, and potentially what happened to him, is coming to light.

“The remains were discovered in 1996 … and back at that time, the investigative techniques to identify him were obviously not as good as they are today,” the investigator, who agreed to speak on background to discuss an ongoing investigation, told Military.com on Thursday.

“It’s a tentative ID right now through a distant relative,” the investigator said. “We want a closer family match for confirmation.”

George’s military background is unclear outside of a photo that the family provided to investigators. Military.com contacted the Army to see whether it had records available for a service member by his name, but because George was likely in the military decades ago, his records would be held by the National Archives and Records Administration, which requires a more lengthy search process, according to Bryce Dubee, an Army spokesperson.

Military.com asked the Army’s Criminal Investigative Division, which stood up a cold case unit last year to help solve its more than 20 reported unsolved homicides, whether it was aware of George’s case prior to him being identified by local authorities. It is unclear whether George was actively serving in the military at the time of his death.

“The Department of the Army Criminal Investigation Division is aware of the discovery of these remains and is conducting an investigation in partnership with local law enforcement,” Thomas Hamilton III, a spokesperson for CID, told Military.com in an email. “As the investigation is in its early stages, we cannot provide any additional information.”

Around the time George was discovered, his remains were sent to the University of Arizona’s pathology lab for testing, but testing in the ’90s was fruitless because he had been buried for an estimated six to 12 months, his body was skeletonized and animals had disturbed the shallow grave.

Last year, however, the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office began working with a forensic cold case company called Othram and sent eight unidentified remains’ samples to its labs for testing, one of which was George’s. Earlier this year, for example, Othram positively identified a Mohave Jane Doe as Colleen Audrey Rice, whose remains were discovered stuffed in a canvas sack in 1971.

“But if this does come to pass,” the Mohave County investigator said of George’s case, “then this would be the fifth identity confirmation of those eight.”

Representatives from Othram did not respond to a request for comment from Military.com, but a press release published in DNASolves.com this week said that forensic evidence for George was submitted to the company’s genetic testing lab in Texas.

“These leads revealed potential family members of the unknown man and subsequently he has been tentatively identified as Sherman George of Los Angeles County, California,” the press release said. “Confirmation testing is underway.”

As authorities and researchers look for additional evidence, they are asking the public for assistance. Anyone with more information on George can contact the Mohave County Special Investigations Unit at 928-753-0753, extension 4288.

— Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at drew.lawrence@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.

Related: Murdered or Missing: The Army Stands Up a Cold Case Unit to Tackle Unsolved Crimes

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