‘Chimney Doe,’ Whose Remains Were Found in Wisconsin Music Store Chimney, Gets Identity Back After 34 Years

A man whose remains were found in a chimney inside a Wisconsin record store in 1989 has finally been identified after more than 34 years thanks to investigative genetic genealogy, officials said. 

“This unsolved case has puzzled people across the country for more than three decades, a human skeleton found in the chimney of a Madison music store way back in 1989,” Madison Police Department Chief Shon Barnes told WMTV 13

The owners of the Good ‘n Loud Music store Madison, Wisconsin, discovered the skull of Ronnie Joe Kirk on Sept. 3, 1989. It was visible through a pipe connecting the boiler to the chimney, the DNA Doe Project said.

Authorities investigated the scene and found a complete human skeleton that was wearing what was thought to be feminine clothing and an iron cross necklace, but no identification was found.

The dress had thrown investigators off at the time, but DNA Doe Project says it was mislabeled.

“People are going to speculate about the so-called dress, and we feel that it was mislabeled as such since we have found no further evidence to suggest Ronnie ever identified as anything other than male,” DNA Doe Project co-team leader Megan Pasika said in a press release.

During a forensic autopsy the remains were determined to be that of a white or Caucasian genetic male, between the ages of 18 and 35 years old, and about five feet, seven inches tall. Authorities said there “was no way the person could have gotten into the pipe from within the building,” the DNA Doe Project said.

The identity of “Chimney Doe” went cold but in December 2019, detective Lindsey Ludden with the City of Madison Police Department reexamined the case and brought it to the DNA Doe Project to try a new investigative method using DNA from the remains.

After more than two years, Astrea Forensics Laboratory of Santa Cruz, California, was able to get enough DNA from rootless hair to develop a DNA profile that could be used for investigative genetic genealogy. The DNA samples were then used by the DNA Doe Project to help build family trees and identify the remains.

This week, the DNA Doe Project announced that Kirk was “Chimney Doe.”

Kirk, who had been adopted, was an Oklahoma native whose last known whereabouts were Madison, Wisconsin. Because Kirk was adopted, DNA Doe Project team leader Gwen Knapp said his identity proved to be difficult and unique to pinpoint.

“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 in a press release. “The shrewd genealogy work done by my team was amazing to tease out the various relationships. We’re so excited that we can give Ronnie Kirk his name back and hope his family has some closure for Ronnie being missing for so long.”

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