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Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Mystery: Daviess County John Doe (1990)


Okay, so, here’s a funny story for you all. Originally, I had planned to write about Septic Tank Sam, the infamous murder victim from Alberta who was tortured, murdered (real shocker there), then disposed of in, well, a septic tank back in 1977. However, as I sat down to prepare for this, I learned he had been identified as 26-year-old Gordon Edwin Sanderson. This took me by surprise since 14 hours prior to this identification, I had told my best friend that he would likely never be identified. So not only did I have to change my plans, but I was also proven wrong and Septic Tank Sam got his name back. Truthfully, I’ve never been happier to be wrong.

At the same time, I was somewhat disappointed I wouldn’t be able to talk about a story like Sam’s. Part of what attracted me to it is I personally think I’ve never really dove into a truly dark, horrific case; something which serves as a sobering reminder to how heartless some people can be. There were a few stories I could fall back on (such as the story of Mary Anderson), but none of them really impacted me the same way that Sam’s story did…

All except for one that is.

As cliché as it is to say there was “just one”, I really do think that Sam’s story was that unique. The amount of suffering he went through prior to his death is shocking to say the least. So I feel it’s really unfortunate there is another story which does affect me the same way Sam’s does. Known as the 1990 Daviess County John Doe, this morbid tale is arguably more unpleasant than Sam’s. So if you’re squeamish, you may find this to be a hard read. For everyone else, let’s take a trip to Kentucky and discuss one of the most (if not the most) violent unidentified persons cases I’ve ever come across.

The Story

Our story begins on January 7, 1990 in Owensboro, Kentucky; the place where NASCAR legends Michael Waltrip and Darrel Waltrip were born, along with acting legend Johnny Depp. Two rabbit hunters were out in a wooded area when they came across the nude body of a Caucasian male. They immediately contacted police, who arrived on the scene not long after and proclaimed that it was “the worst they’d ever seen”. That isn’t hyperbole either, most officers who saw the remains stated as much.

Believed to be between the ages of 25 and 40, the John Doe in question stood somewhere between 5’0” and 5’7” (1.5–1.7 meters). He had 8-inch-long curly brown hair, weighed somewhere between 125 and 140 pounds (56–63 kilograms), and had been deceased for 

1–7 days. This could mean he died in 1989, but the general consensus is that he was dead for about 3 days. A pair of glasses were also found nearby.

Speaking of death, the decedent suffered an extremely violent one. He had been shot in the arms, chest, and head a total of six times; this is believed to be what killed him. However, prior to that, he had been raped (with semen being found in his rectum; this has been tested, but has yet to yield a match with any known offenders), and was beaten.

Oh my Lord was he beaten.

I admittedly don’t know if the trauma that the John Doe sustained was done pre or postmortem, but the end result is all the same. I’ve seen some really brutal things, but the savagery on display here is all but unparalleled. The decedent was beaten to the point that half of his face was caved in, causing what I can only describe as a depression on his face. A fair number of teeth had also been knocked out. There are images available from the coroner’s office, but I won’t link them here because I don’t want to seem mean and I’d rather not give a link to any NSFL material.

Topping all of this off was a telling detail to detectives. The man’s hands and feel had been removed, indicating that the killer[s] didn’t want their victim to be identified. However, there was no blood at the crime scene, so it’s clear he was murdered elsewhere.

Suffice to say, a murder like this isn’t exactly commonplace, so police immediately got to work on trying to find the murderer, and to figure out who their victim was. However, the most they got was a single witness who lived down the road from where the John Doe was discovered. They stated they saw what they believed to be a green and white, early 1970s Ford pickup truck driving around the area.

This is where the trail goes cold. I can find no information on what happened between the years of 1990 and 2007. The most I can find is a link to a really small news article in a local paper from when the body was originally discovered, which feels really inefficient given how the man had been, for all intents and purposes, obliterated by his killer[s].

As for any other information beyond the little bit I gave above, that’s everything I can find from sites like the Unidentified Wiki, various forums, YouTube videos, and elsewhere. This story is surprisingly very barebones when it comes to details, which I believe goes to show just how bizarrely fringe it is. You’d think that brutality would give it notoriety, but that isn’t the case. I guess the stereotype that Americans love their violent crimes ends when it comes to some poor soul innawoods over in Kentucky.

Anyways, I mentioned earlier there were no breaks in the case until 2007. That’s because in September of that year, an announcement was made that the John Doe was identified as Scott Michael Morris, who had vanished from Indianapolis, Indiana in 1978 (he was 14-years-old at the time). However… this was not meant to last. In 2008 or 2010 (I’ve heard both years cited), further testing was performed and it was revealed that there was a mistake and the body didn’t belong to Morris. As such, detectives were back to square one, and Morris is still missing as of the time of this writing.

That leaves us with nothing to go on. This case begins and ends with a horribly mutilated body in the woods. There are a few theories though, so let’s dive into ‘em!


1. It was a hate crime

This is a relatively popular theory. It goes that the John Doe was murdered by someone because he was a homosexual. I personally don’t get why someone who hates homosexuals would perform intercourse with their victim though, nor do I know what the politics of Owensboro was like back in the late 80s and early 90s. Though I guess it isn’t too surprising given the time period. If I’m wrong though, do correct me in the comments below.

2. Revenge

This is arguably the most popular theory, and with good reason. The details of the murder indicate the crime was extremely personal in nature. Extensive damage to the face, multiple gunshots to key parts of the body (like the head), and the removal of the hands and feet are all things one would expect to see in a case of revenge. However, one question remains: why did it happen?

Revenge-based murders can happen for an array of reasons. An affair, unpaid debt, damaging one’s property, being screwed over, or an off-color remark (you can actually loosely tie this into the theory above; a homosexual made a joking remark which angered someone enough to where they wanted to show them what for). Of course, that’s all just speculation on my part, so take it with a grain of salt. I’m not a detective, I’m but a lowly blogger, sitting on his bed, typing away on a laptop, being glared at by an Archon as it feeds on my soul.

It hurts, please send help.

3. A serial killer

The third and final theory is perhaps one of the most controversial. A lot of people out there will try to connect unsolved murders together for some inexplicable reason. Some are just aching to be the one to connect the dots, while others just see patterns where there are none. In this case though, it wasn’t some no-name Joe Schmo on Reddit, 4chan, or YouTube who made this up. No, it was a report by the name of Stefanie Silvey.

Back in 2004, Silvey had posited that the case could be tied to a serial killer by the name of James Cable, which might I just say is the kind of name I’d expect an action hero to have. Anyways, Cable and his partner-in-crime, Philip Clopton (boy, I could make a lot of My Little Pony art jokes right about now), were responsible for raping and killing a total of four young girls (aged between 7 and 15). It wasn’t until he was in prison that DNA connected him to the serial murders though.

What caused police to take this connection seriously were two things. The first is that one of Cable’s victims was murdered in Owensboro. The second is that Cable raped and dismembered them, just like our John Doe. However, it’s worth noting that Cable has, “canonically”, only murdered young girls. There’s zero evidence to point in the direction of him having murdered any boys/men. To make matters even worse, Cable died on December 3, 2013 without ever confessing to any of the crimes he was convicted of.

In spite of that, police are still possibly treating this seriously. In 2015, a spokesman for the Kentucky State Police issued the following statement:

The last time detectives received a possible lead in the case was in May, when the department received information about a potential suspect in other killings. The lead was investigated through DNA evidence, but investigators determined there was no connection to the body found on Pleasant Valley Road.

It’s never been specified if they’re talking about Cable or another unknown serial killer who’s either on the loose or in prison for other crimes, but given the lack of updates in what’s now over six years, I’m skeptical the lead went anywhere.

My Take

Maybe I’m trying to oversell how viscous this case is, but there’s something about it which strikes me as unbelievably brutal. Like, half of this guy’s face was caved in. It’s insane how much anger and hatred the killer must’ve felt. How on Earth does someone live with themselves after a crime like this? It boggles my puny mind.

Though that’s besides the point. My personal opinion on this is that it was a revenge-driven murder, likely over something petty, and the killer has felt no pity or remorse over what he or she did. All things considered, it’s probably a cut-and-dry murder. I sincerely doubt it was a hate crime on account of the semen found in the John Doe’ and the lack of any information about local serial killers (barring Cable) makes me smash that X button like it’s the like button on a third-rate YouTuber’s video. Besides, as I stated above: Cable targeted little girls, not grown men.

With that said: I do think this man will one day be identified. Genealogical testing has come a long way and has identified a great many people who many thought would never have their names given back. That, coupled with the semen sample[s], and I think there’s a good chance this case will one day be resolved. As for when it’ll be resolved… that I can’t say for certain. It may not be for a while. Though don’t hold me to that, I’ve been wrong before. I did say Septic Tank Sam would never be identified!

Also, as for the case of Scott Michael Morris: I’m convinced he was murdered. By who and for what reason, I don’t know, but I sincerely doubt he’s alive. I also may look more into it as a result of writing this story.


I won’t lie: it feels wonderful to be back. I’d missed writing; spending entire days in bed, crying, wasn’t exactly my idea of “fun” or “fulfilling”. It was my idea of “ways to reconsider what life means”, but that’s a bit overly dark and I don’t think it’s appropriate to put that out there.

What I would like to put out there are my plans for the summer. I talked about them briefly at the end of the megalist, but if you haven’t read that, I want to try to spend this month and next month discussing as many mysteries as I can so you and I can escape the warm weather and instead enjoy some good old fashioned mystery exploring together—and occasionally look over some conspiracies. So hopefully, I’ll never have too long of a gap between write-ups (unless I get very sick).

But first, I must go back through my old writing and remove every single double space. Haha, delays go brrrrr. Not really though; see you all soon!


  1. I heard that an officer found a man in Louisville that appeared to be the son of John Doe but denied it. He wouldnt submit to a dna test even though his own father had also gone missing only a year before. Matching height, weight, hair, everything even looked like a less smashed up version of him...maybe it is a family thing and everyone's waiting for the killer to become too old to worry about?

  2. I'm writing to let you know that this John Doe has been identified as William Dennis Matthews

    1. I'm close to a month late but thank you so much for letting me know! I'm so glad that this man finally got identified.