Bones found in a wooded area south of Barron, Wisconsin, in December 2017 have been identified as being from Gary Albert Herbst, 63, of New Prague. Herbst is believed to be a homicide victim based on evidence of a gunshot wound to the head.

“The manner of death is now being investigated as a homicide and is an active case in the Sheriff’s Department,” Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said late last month.

Working in conjunction with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, the DNA Doe Project identified the remains.

Special Agent Joe Welsch of the WDJ contacted DNA Doe Project in January 2019 for assistance in identifying the unknown man. Following sequencing of the DNA in late 2019, advanced bioinformatics ultimately resulted in a usable file which could be uploaded to GEDmatch.com.

Research by DDP volunteer genetic genealogists began on Feb. 25. In less than two days, team leaders contacted Welsch to offer a likely identity for the John Doe. Welsch was able to secure a DNA sample from a close relative which confirmed the identity of the homicide victim as Herbst.

Team leader Jenny Lecus described the moment the pieces fell into place: “There is such exhilaration when through genetic genealogy we can return a name to someone. But a bitter-sweet realization knowing a family will not be getting the answer they hoped for. Our hearts go out to them.”

DDP acknowledged the contributions of those groups and individuals who helped solve the case: Barron County Sheriff’s Office; Special Agent Welsch; University of North Texas for providing DNA samples; DNA Solutions for extractions; HudsonAlpha Discovery Life Sciences (formerly Hudson Alpha for Biotechnology) for sequencing; Dr. Gregory Magoon, contracting through Full Genomes Corporation, for bioinformatics; GEDmatch for providing their database; and the DNA Doe Project’s talented team of volunteers.

The DNA Doe Project is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization with a mission of identifying John and Jane Does, and returning them to their families. For more information, visit dnadoeproject.org.

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