20 Years After Missed Court Date, His Skeleton Was Found

Police seek info on Ronnie Joe Kirk, whose remains turned up in Wisconsin store chimney
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 16, 2024 10:35 AM CDT

His name was Ronnie Joe Kirk. How he got to be in the chimney of the Good 'n Loud Music store in Madison, Wisconsin, is anyone's guess. The body of the 5'7" man was discovered at the base of the chimney on Sept. 3, 1989, during the removal of a boiler, but he wasn't immediately identified. Thirty years later, Madison police reached out to the DNA Doe Project, a nonprofit that helps police trace unidentified individuals. It took more than two years to develop a DNA profile from a strand of rootless hair found with the skeleton, per CBS News. Then came the trouble of investigating familial connections to identify the individual, who turned out to be adopted.

It was "shrewd genealogy work," a rep for the project tells CBS. "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." Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes said the identification is "just the first major step in the investigation," per WMTV. "Now we start the process of trying to figure out who Ronnie was and how he ended up in Madison." Born in 1942, Kirk hailed from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was adopted, and was married and divorced twice, per WPR. In 1970, he was accused of deserting his wife and child, per the Wisconsin State Journal. A court date was set in Madison, but Kirk never showed. This is "the most recent known record investigators have of him alive," per the outlet.

"Someone will remember him, and we'll do everything that we can to try to trace down if he worked here, if he lived here, or if he was just passing through," Barnes said, per WMTV. Authorities note the skeleton, thought to have been in the chimney up to two years before it was discovered, was found alongside an iron cross necklace, a sleeveless dress, a button-down shirt, a sweater, and pointed shoes, per the State Journal. It's unclear whether the man got into the chimney by himself or was put there by someone else. What is clear is that he couldn't have gotten inside the closed-loop chimney from inside the building, the DNA Doe Project said, per CBS. "[We] hope his family has some closure for Ronnie being missing for so long," a rep from the nonprofit added, per WMTV. (More genetic genealogy stories.)

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