Authorities have identified the human remains found along the Neosho River nearly seven years ago. Now, an investigation moves forward into how the man died.

DNA testing confirms the human remains are of Randy Bruce Clayton.

His remains were discovered about 15 miles east of Emporia on April 29, 2017. Deputies were sent to an area on the west side of Neosho Rapids for a report of a skull that was found on the banks of the river, the Lyon County Sheriff's Office shared. More remains were found inside a fitted bed sheet and comforter inside a lawn trash sack, as well as a digital watch. 

Details of the case were entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs,) and were also submitted to the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va., for DNA analysis.

In 2022, the Lyon County Sheriff's Office partnered with Othram to determine if advanced forensic DNA testing could help to identify the man.

Othram specializes in forensic genetic genealogy to resolve unsolved murders, disappearances and identification of unidentified decedents or murder victims. It's looked into thousands of cases and helped solve 250, including 3 in Kansas -- Clayton's included, said Colby Lasyone, director of operations at Othram, the Houston-area lab that tested the DNA.

"The advocacy is so important," he said. "The number one barrier to this advanced testing and the use of forensic-grade or forensic genetic genealogy is funding. So, there are departments and organizations across the United States and governmental agencies that are starting to rally around and understand the need and also understand that this technology fills a gap and really, there's evidence that we can start to identify people, be unidentified human remains or perpetrators of crimes, whatever the case may be. But, the barrier is money."

Each case costs about $7,500 to process, and the Lyon County Sheriff's Office paid for most of the bill, but Othram's work is supported by crowdfunding as well. The community can make a big difference with solving cold cases like these, especially with this modern-day approach, Lasyone said.

"This is a stopgap that allows us to collect the funds so that people don't have to wait any longer," he continued. "In this particular case, this man's remains were found in 2017. That's a long time to wait to really provide an identification for someone. If you can imagine, there are cases that are decades old, where remains were found -- in the 1940's, 50's, 60's -- and these cases, families are aging, and they need answers. To be able to close the gap through crowdfunding on our DNASolves.com platform is one way. It's important to note in this particular case that the sheriff's office did provide a majority of the funds for this particular case but that's not always possible for all agencies."

Forensic evidence was submitted to Othram scientists at their lab in Texas, and then, they successfully developed a comprehensive DNA profile. The profile was used in a genetic genealogy search to develop new investigative leads that were returned to law enforcement. Using the new information, detectives conducted a follow-up investigation and made contact with a potential relative. Follow-up DNA testing with family members confirmed it was Clayton. Clayton was from the Phoenix area and lived in Oklahoma, Othram shared. He was born October 12, 1953.

"The providing answers is incredibly meaningful," Lasyone said. "These folks have gone for some time without really understanding the whereabouts of their loved one, and without any real confirmation until now that this man was Randy Clayton."

Lasyone said Othram's partnerships with law enforcement agencies, medical examiners' offices and more is important. Without one another, and help from the public, it may take a longer time to reach that closure.

"I think it's important for people to not give up hope," he said. "The technology is here and available to help resolve cases such as this. And, you know, the number one barrier at this point is funding and that's changing. If folks want to support and aren't able to financially, advocacy is very important. Advocating for new and different technologies to help bring resolution in these types of cases is very helpful and important."

The case remains under investigation, the Lyon County Sheriff's Office shared.



PREVIOUS REPORT 

Detectives hope a digital watch could help identify a body found years ago in east Kansas.

A man found a skull on April 29, 2017, near the Neosho River, just outside of Neosho Rapids, about 15 miles east of Emporia.

“The reporting party stated he had walked to the river to see how high the water had risen from recent rain when he noticed a skull in a grassy area on the east bank of the Neosho River,” a case report with the U.S. Department of Justice reads.

Later, about 20 feet north of where the skull was found, investigators were about to find more human remains wrapped in a fitted bed sheet and comforter inside of a lawn trash sack. “The sack was tied on the top but animals had torn into the bag to access the remains,” the case report shares.

Along with the body, a digital watch was found. An autopsy was conducted and determined that the John Doe was likely a man middle-to-late aged who was mixed-race – possibly black and white. He lived with scoliosis, meaning he had a curve in his spine. He likely died between 2013 and 2016.

Back then, the Lyon County Sheriff said a private lab did DNA testing to help identify the man. His information was put in databases for comparison against other missing people, criminals and families of missing people.


JOHN DOE

Body Found: Near Neosho Rapids, Lyon Co., Kan.

Located When: April 29, 2017

Age then: Middle-to-late aged

Height: 5’5’’

Weight: No description

Hair: Long blonde, white or gray hair, which was about 6 to 8 inches long

Eyes: No description

Clothing: Digital watch


If you have information that could help the case, contact the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office at (620) 341-3205; or Kansas Bureau of Investigation at (785) 296-8200 or anonymously online by clicking here.

KAKE News features the story of a missing person every weekday in our morning and evening newscasts. If you have a person you’d like for us to share a story about, please contact Anchor Annette Lawless at [email protected].