Police hoping to solve mystery 26 years after head found

A sketch shows what the Otonabee River Man may have looked like.

A sketch shows what the Otonabee River Man may have looked like.

Jason Bain, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

PETERBOROUGH, Ont. - He may have been bald, or partially bald. He had dark hair. Possibly, a beard.

Stains on his teeth indicates he may have been a smoker. He had poor dental hygiene - some of his lower molars were missing well before his death.

He’s been dubbed the Otonabee River Man.

City police are hoping these details, along with the release of new facial approximations, will foster new leads in the cold case.

Officials held a press conference Thursday, 26 years to the day after a human head was found by recreational divers in the Otonabee River, to release the sketches by an Ontario Provincial Police forensic artist in the hopes of finally closing the case.

“We have been relentless in hopes of bringing this homicide to a successful conclusion,” city police Chief Murray Rodd said. “Sometimes, by raising awareness at the right place and the right time, we can tip an investigation into the right direction.”


A sketch shows what the Otonabee River Man may have looked like.

Click here to see more photos of what the man may have looked like

Det. Jeff Morgan said a seven-day aerial and underwater search involving 13 divers between Lock 19 and the bypass following the grisly discovery yielded no body or other parts.

There were no missing persons cases in the city at the time, leading officials to believe the head may have been brought to the area from somewhere else.

“This guy could have been from anywhere from Vancouver to Newfoundland,” Morgan said.

An autopsy was conducted on the head on July 12, 1988, and it was determined to belong to a man.

There were signs of arthritis in the man’s mouth bones, Morgan said, meaning he “may have experienced significant pain in his jaw.”

Some 22 people have been eliminated as possibilities as a result of DNA tips, Morgan said, adding how he hopes the new renderings will provide leads.

“We hope somebody recognizes Otonabee River Man and finally gives us a name,” he said.

Forensic anthropologist Kathy Gruspier said “extensive decomposition” of the head makes it “extremely hard” to determine how long the head was in the river or when the man was killed. It is known that he was somewhere between 40 and 74 years of age when he was killed.

The head was not removed by a boat motor or by the violent action of going through a dam.

“There were very definitive indications that a blade was used to sever the head,” she said.

Police hope someone will help them “connect the dots,” Rodd said, adding it could a case of helping someone “unburden” themselves of information they may be withholding.

“That is not an unusual circumstance,” he said.


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