Remains Identified 43 Years After Body Found Near Rhinelander

Wagswoofs – The Oneida County Sheriff’s Department has finally identified the man whose body was found over 43 years ago near Rhinelander.

On March 19, 1980, authorities discovered the body of a man in a field located in the town of Pine Lake. The field was situated approximately 46 yards away from Hwy. 17, on private property. Interestingly, it was only recently that the body was finally identified.

According to officials, Norman Grasser, a resident of Chicago, passed away as a result of hypothermia caused by cold exposure.

In 1980, officials had limited information about the deceased individual. They determined that he was a Caucasian male, aged between 25 and 45, standing approximately 6 feet tall and weighing around 170 pounds. His brown hair was an identifying feature. To aid in the identification process, authorities gathered his clothing and personal items. Despite sending his fingerprints to both the State Crime Lab and the FBI, no matches were found.

The investigation into this case progressed over time, with authorities diligently following up on missing persons reports and releasing updates to the press.

In 2019, the authorities entered the information into NamUs, a nationwide database that deals with cases of missing and unidentified individuals, as well as unclaimed persons, throughout the United States. As a result, several potential matches were identified and investigated, but none of them turned out to be a positive match. At that time, the deceased individual was only referred to as John Doe 1980. In April 2021, the body was brought to the Fond du Lac Medical Examiner’s office for the purpose of collecting DNA samples.

The collected items were sent to the FBI Laboratory in Quantico for DNA profiling once this task was completed.

In January 2023, the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office collaborated with the Ramapo College of New Jersey Investigative Genetic Genealogy Center to conduct advanced forensic DNA testing on John Doe 1980 and initiate a genealogy search. Thanks to the diligent efforts of students enrolled in the Ramapo College IGG Certificate Program, a breakthrough lead emerged, leading to the identification of Mr. Grasser. Further investigation unveiled that Grasser had been reported missing by his family in Cook County back in January 1980.

In a news release, it was stated that the Grasser family expressed their gratitude to all those involved in bringing an end to their 43-year-long nightmare.

Several agencies provided assistance in this case:

    • Oneida County Sheriff’s Office
    • Oneida County Buildings and Grounds
    • Oneida County District Attorney’s Office
    • City of Rhinelander Parks Department
    • Vilas County Sheriff’s Office
    • Eagle River Police Department
    • Woodruff Police Department
    • Rhinelander Police Department
    • Forest County Sheriff’s Office
    • Waupaca County Sheriff’s Office
    • Ramapo College of New Jersey Investigative Genetic Genealogy Center
    • Intermountain Forensics
    • WJFW Newswatch 12
    • Federal Bureau of Investigations
    • Wisconsin State Crime Lab
    • University of Wisconsin Pathology Department
    • Fond du Lac Medical Examiner’s Office
    • NamUs- National Missing and Unidentified Persons System
    • Father Chris Kemp- Nativity of Our Lord Church

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