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Do you know this man? OPP hope forensic art will crack decades-old case

In April 1980, a hiker veered off the Hardwood Lookout Trail near Whitney, Ont. — and stumbled across human remains. Decades later, police are still trying to figure out who the man was, and hope new techniques can crack the case.

A man's remains were found in Algonquin Park in 1980 — but his identity is still a mystery

Do you know this man? An Ontario Provincial Police forensic artist made this 3-D reconstruction on the skull of a man whose remains were found in Algonquin Park in 1980. Decades later, his identity remains a mystery. (Ontario Provincial Police)

In April 1980, a hiker veered off the Hardwood Lookout Trail in Algonquin Provincial Park — and stumbled across human remains.

A police search of the area near Whitney, Ont. soon after uncovered a size 11 boot, a black sleeping bag, a pair of Levi's jeans, a belt worn out at the 32-inch hole, a camp stove, and a wallet with no identification.

After another search of the area 15 years later led to the discovery of more remains, and forensic anthropological analysis painted a picture of who the man was. Caucasian. Around 18 to 29-years-old. Long blonde or brown hair. And a slim build. His belt was worn out right at the 32-inch hole.

One piece was particularly intriguing for police — the man's clothes were found piled neatly beside a sleeping bag. "That led investigators to believe at the time that the individual likely got undressed to sleep," says Ontario Provincial Police Det. Insp. Rob Matthews.

"Then something happened during the night."

But what?

Decades later, the man's identity and the circumstances around his death remain a mystery, and the OPP is still trying to figure out whose body was discovered that day in Algonquin Park.

On Wednesday, the force revealed a new tool in its search: A 3-D clay reconstruction of the man's face, the product of forensic science and the artistry of Const. Duncan Way, a forensic artist and reconstruction analyst.

Const. Duncan Way works out of the Ontario Provincial Police's Orillia headquarters, and creates 3-D facial reconstructions using real human remains. (Grant Linton/CBC News)

Tissue depth studies indicate the common averages for such things as nose projection, nose width, and the depths of tissue on certain parts of the skull, Way says.

Using that information, and the assessment of a forensic anthropologist, Way was able to build the man's likeness — directly on his skull.

"I ready myself with some tissue depth markers," he explains, showing the little white markers he uses to mark different areas.

"I put them on morphological points on the skull, add eyes, add clay, build the muscles and just work outward from the skull with the clay to create a face."

The whole process usually takes 40 to 60 hours, he says. The final piece involves a bit of photo editing magic, changing the man's eye colour to a variety of different options, since police don't know the real colour of his eyes.

It's all subjective, Way adds, and it's impossible to know if the clay form that police displayed on Wednesday at the force's Orillia headquarters is an accurate depiction of the man who died four decades ago.

But, he says, it's a start, and Way aims to do more reconstruction in the future — in hopes of finding some of the 1,657 people listed as "missing" across the province.

"I just really, really hope someone who might know this person sees it, and it's close enough that they make the phone call," he says.

Think you recognize the man? You can call the dedicated Canadian missing persons hotline at 1-877-9-FINDME.

About the Author

Lauren Pelley is a CBC News reporter based in Toronto. Currently covering how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting Canadians, in Toronto and beyond. Contact her at: lauren.pelley@cbc.ca

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