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Human skull found in 1990 identified 32 years later

While the victim has been identified, there are still many unanswered questions.

STAFFORD COUNTY, Va. — Editor's Note: The video above is in regard to a different cold case investigation.

Investigators say they have identified human remains 32 years after a skull was found under a fence line in =. 

On Sept. 28, 1990, a man was bush hogging his field when he found a human skull lying under the fence line near Joshua Road, according to the Stafford County Sheriff's Office. 

When deputies arrived they claimed the skull had been there for a while and searched the area but found no other body parts. Officials say the skull did not show any signs of trauma. 

The Office of Chief Medical Examiners (OCME) in Richmond, Va., examined the skull alongside the National Museum of Natural History Smithsonian Institution and the Department of Anthropology in Washington D.C.

Experts concluded the skull belonged to a young white man, between the ages of 15 to 18 years old who died sometime between 1986 and 1989. While a cause of death could not be determined, OCME strongly suspected the death to be violent or unnatural due to the victim's age and where the skull was found. 

More than 20 years later, in 2011 DNA tests were run on the skull by DNA International and the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification. That DNA profile was then uploaded to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), however, the results turned up nothing. 

Flash forward to May 7, 2020, when the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children joined the investigation. Investigators asked OCME if the DNA taken from the skull could be sequenced and then searched against genealogy databases to try to find any potential family members of the still-unidentified victim. 

More than a year later, in November 2021 the genealogical research conducted by Othram Laboratories in Woodlands, Texas, found a possible name and location of the victim's father and brother who were from Norfolk, Va. 

A detective contacted the family members and was able to identify the victim as Timothy Mangum. The victim's father and brother said they hadn't seen or spoken to Mangum for years prior to 1990.

DNA samples from the family confirmed that the skull belonged to Mangum. 

On Saturday, Othram CEO David Mittelman spoke exclusively to WUSA 9 about the investigative work and how his team was able to piece together information to help lead to the identification. 

"This was DNA that was very degraded," he said. "We were able to build a geological profile, which is a DNA profile that contains hundreds of thousands of markers.” 

Mittelman said the information helped lead them to the father and brother of Mangum.

He told WUSA9 that he was glad to help bring answers to the case but plenty of questions still remained. 

"It’s hard to get justice for someone if you don’t know who they are. I’m hoping now that they know this guy, they can work to figure out who might have been around him in his final days and what happened," he said. "It’s such a bizarre case. This was not an adult. It was a kid. There’s this mystery. How did he get there? What happened? How did he lose touch with family?” 

According to detectives, Mangum attended Lake Taylor High School in Norfolk for one year after withdrawing from the Chesapeake Public School system in January 1983. At one point, he lived with his mother in Chattanooga, Tenn., before returning to Norfolk. He was placed at the James Barry Robinson Institute, a residential treatment program and later enrolled as a sophomore at Lake Taylor High School. 

Investigators believe Mangum was last alive in 1983-1984 but not much information is available regarding his disappearance, how he died or why he was in Stafford County.

Anyone who may have known Mangum or attended school with him is asked to contact Detective Dave Wood, at the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office at (540) 658-4727 or email at dwood@staffordcountyva.gov

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