MORE than 15 years after a homeless man was found dead in North Carlton, DNA testing has revealed he had Jewish heritage and the community is being urged to help identify him.
While his body may have been discovered in 2004, the initial investigation unearthed limited information, and the man’s identity remained a mystery.
But a couple of months ago, investigators had a small breakthrough. Following advancements in DNA profiling and genetic genealogy technology, it was established the man had an Ashkenazi Jewish background, with connections to Kovno, Lithuania; Lodz, Poland; and Novogrodek, Belarus.
Genetic genealogy firm, To the Letter DNA has been working in collaboration with the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) on behalf of the Coroners Court of Victoria to solve the identity of the man who was estimated to have been between 70 and 80 years old when he died.
“As you might imagine, it is likely he has family who do not know of his fate. We would love to be able to identify the man and notify his next of kin of his passing and the circumstances of his death (pneumonia),” To the Letter DNA CEO Joscelyn McBain told The AJN.
Through the man’s genetic genealogy and detailed investigation, McBain was able to link him to a woman in the United States likely to have been a second cousin.
“But unfortunately, she knew nothing of him, and wasn’t able to help us further,” McBain said.
The man’s body was discovered on May 23, 2004 in an alcove of an apartment block located at 427 Nicholson Street, North Carlton. Described as having a small build, at 160 centimetres or 5’3″, the man was unshaven and balding with grey-white hair. He was later buried as an unknown deceased person, but he has remained an open coronial case.
VIFM manager of molecular biology, Dr Dadna Hartman shared, “The residents of the apartment block noted that he was non-verbal to them, reserved and kept to himself, he maintained the area he occupied very tidy and left each day on the tram.”
It is believed he may have lived in the area for about two years prior to his death.
According to a 2007 report in the Herald Sun, a national fingerprint check, door knocking efforts, media appeals and checks of missing persons records across Australia did not shed any light on his identity.
Apparently, he would rise early then leave on a city-bound tram at 9.30am each day, to return later at 6.30pm.
Constable Richard Stanger of Fitzroy Police told the Herald Sun, “He’d come back, remake his little bed in the alcove and sleep there.”
The man would also clean leaves from the driveways of others at the apartments.
“We don’t know if he had a long stretching link to North Carlton, once Melbourne’s centre of Jewish life, or if perhaps he liked to be close to a loved one buried in the Jewish section of the nearby Melbourne Cemetery,” ruminated McBain.
“And while, we don’t know if he was a practising Jew or not, we urge anyone who thinks they may have the slightest piece of information to be in touch with us, so he can finally rest with at least the very basic dignity of a name.”
If you can offer any information on the identity of the man, contact the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine Coronial Admissions and Enquiries team on (03) 9684 4444.