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Thread: "Crate Man," "Ditch Girl," "Woods Man," "Glitter Man" and "Madame Butterfly."

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    news "Crate Man," "Ditch Girl," "Woods Man," "Glitter Man" and "Madame Butterfly."

    James Cardin and Gene Sullivan keep a dry erase board on the rear wall of their small, spartan office. Inside the boxes of a grid, laid out in blue painter's tape, are names such as "Crate Man," "Ditch Girl," "Woods Man," "Glitter Man" and "Madame Butterfly." The other boxes are filled with details on how each one met their demise.
    Crate Man was discovered in a wooden box, floating in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal near Lockport. He was riddled with bullets.
    Ditch Girl was left on the side of the road near New Lenox. Woods Man was the well-groomed, well-dressed elderly gentleman dumped in a rural area. Madame Butterfly was the woman of Asian descent found along Interstate 55 more than four decades ago. Glitter Man was given his nickname because several of his teeth had gold caps and fillings.
    They are among the 11 unidentified deaths in Will County, people whose bodies washed ashore in the suburban county without any clue as to who they were or how they got there. Almost every one them died by violent means.
    It's Cardin and Sullivan's job to fill in the rest.
    Last year, Will County Coroner Patrick O'Neil hired the pair part time amid a push by the federal government to start attaching real names to the country's roughly 40,000 unidentified remains. Cardin, 59, retired in 2006 after 29 years with the Will County sheriff's police. Sullivan, 53, enjoyed a long career as a detective in Romeoville before retiring in 2008.
    As with most cold cases, the work is meticulous, the results often frustrating.
    The John and Jane Does probably lived on the margins. They might have been homeless or lived lives of crime. Their family backgrounds probably weren't the greatest. When they died, no one stepped up to claim them.
    "I understand what can happen. Administrators come and go. Investigators leave. Things get filed and people forget about them," Sullivan said. "Cases get buried."
    When the retired cops started working for the coroner, they literally were taking boxes and blowing dust off of the lids. Inside they discovered handwritten notes, scraps of paper and brittle carbon copies of past police reports.
    In the p ast 18 months, they have tracked down whatever physical evidence was left behind. They have sent remains to the Center for Human Identification at the University of North Texas for DNA testing. The FBI has assisted with facial reconstructions. Cardin and Sullivan also have put shoe leather to pavement to generate a lead or two.
    The data is logged at the U.S. Department of Justice's National Missing and Unidentified Missing Persons System - The hope is other law enforcement are posting their missing persons cases online so the dots can be connected.
    "We hope other agencies are doing the same thing," Sullivan said. "If they do, at some point , there will be a match."
    (I would have liked to find out if Cook County was doing anything similar, but the medical examiner's office and a spokesman for Cook County Board President did not return several messages.)
    None of the cases entrusted to Cardin and Sullivan are the type that grab headlines.
    The Woods Man is particularly sad. He was found in 1984 in New Lenox Township, wearing a cardigan and top coat. He died of natural causes. The speculation is his family could not afford a funeral and dumped him. Or someone might be cashing Social Security checks still being written in his name after all of these years.
    "The indignity of being left out in the woods demands some answers," Cardin said.
    Stumbled upon by a highway crew on a Monday morning in 1968, Madame Butterfly is the county's oldest case. She had been strangled and beaten about her head. Last year, Cardin and Sullivan were cleared to exhume her body to collect remains for DNA testing.
    Ditch Girl was found in 1981, a few feet from the shoulder on Interstate 80 near U.S. 30 in New Lenox. She had been dead for at least three years, thousands of cars a day passing her body as it decomposed.
    There is the occasional odd twist.
    A few months ago, someone surfing the Web in Finland linked the case of a missing man in Poland with the body of a man found hanging in the Thorn Creek Forest Preserve near University Park in 2008. In the deceased man's pocket was a lighter that Cardin and Sullivan traced to Polish markets on the South Side.
    Acting on the tip, Cardin and Sullivan contacted Polish authorities, who provided the last known address in Chicago of their missing person. They took a drive one afternoon and starting knocking on doors. They found the man alive and well.
    "Turns out he didn't much care for his family," Cardin said. "He shut down all communication with them."
    But the find still left them with a John Doe.
    Cardin and Sullivan have checked towing records to see if the hanging man's car was towed from the forest preserve. They plan to collect a saliva sample from a northwest suburban woman who fears the remains might be those of her father. The work will continue until the man is reunited with his past.
    "Just imagine you wake up and one of your children is missing - even an adult child. You would want to know what happened," Sullivan said. "It's always good to shake the bushes now and then to see what shakes out."

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