Nineteen years ago two fishermen were in Lake Erie about a mile offshore between Bolles Harbor and the mouth of the River Raisin when they came across a body floating in the water.

Authorities could not identify the victim and eventually the remains were buried as “John Doe” in an area cemetery.

But thanks to technology and the persistence of those who dedicate themselves to tracking down missing persons, that man has been identified. He was Ronald Norman, who at the time was a 42-year-old Detroit resident when he disappeared.

His twin brother, Donald Norman, never stopped looking for him and always believed he was still alive.

“It’s sad but I have a little closure now,” said Mr. Norman, now 61, who lives in Dayton, Ohio. “I thought he was alive all this time.”

The victim was last seen Dec. 8, 1991, at a foster care home on W. Grand Blvd. in Detroit where he lived. He was mentally disabled due to serious head injuries he suffered in a 1977 accident.

It is assumed that Mr. Norman either fell, or perhaps even was pushed, into the Detroit River and drowned. Currents then sent his body south into Lake Erie and then down to Monroe County. On April 24, 1992, four months after he disappeared, his body was found by the two fishermen.

According to Evening News archives, an autopsy was performed and the medical examiner at the time determined that Mr. Norman died of drowning. His remains were buried in St. Joseph Cemetery and the case was largely forgotten.
Until now.

Two women — one a Michigan State Police trooper in Detroit, the other a social worker in Big Rapids — used a website to help connect the dots and an unsolved case in Monroe County has been solved.

On Monday, medical officials ruled that the body recovered in Monroe that spring day 19 years ago was in fact Mr. Norman. State Police Trooper Sarah Krebs, a forensic artist based in Detroit who has worked on several Monroe County unsolved cases, said she was excited about clearing up this case.

“He probably ended up in the Detroit River, which took him down to Monroe County,” Trooper Krebs said. “His family endured him being missing all these years.”

Helping solve the case was Heather Holland, a social worker in mid-Michigan. She is a missing persons advocate and director for Track Missing, a website dedicated to finding missing people.

Both Ms. Holland and Trooper Krebs used a website called NamUs, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, which can be used by anyone to enter data about missing people.

“The great thing about this website is it’s accessible to everyone,” Trooper Krebs said. “It’s open to the public.”

NamUs allows families and police to enter descriptions, photos, fingerprints, dental records and DNA. That information is then available to anyone searching for a missing person.

Trooper Krebs and Ms. Holland were using the website when they noticed similar and distinct information about Mr. Norman, including his missing upper teeth, the skull injury he suffered in the 1977 accident and the type of clothes he was wearing at the time he disappeared.

“Everything in this case lined up,” Trooper Krebs said. “It immediately hit on him. I knew that was Ronald Norman.”

Ms. Holland said she has been helping to track down missing people mostly in Michigan but all across the United State as well. Because of the technology and websites available, sharing information is as simple as a touch of a keypad.

An exhumation of the remains will not be necessary.

“If that information didn’t get entered into NamUs, I would never have known Mr. Norman existed,” Ms. Holland said. “(Donald Norman) has been looking for his brother forever.”

The extraordinary link between Dayton, Detroit and Big Rapids ended in Monroe where Mr. Norman is buried. For his surviving brother, a 19-year quest is over and his questions have been answered. Soon he said he will travel to Monroe and visit his brother’s final resting place.

“That is very, very important to me,” Mr. Norman said. “Even though my brother is gone, I appreciate from the bottom of my heart everything they did to find him.”