1976 Montana victim ‘John Doe’ has been identified as a Wisconsin Rapids male

RED LODGE, Mont. (WSAW) — A Wisconsin Rapids man who was reported missing in 1976 has been identified as a murder victim in a cold case in Montana.

On June 20, 2004, a hiker discovered a human skull about 15 miles south of Red Lodge, Montana. Law enforcement responded with search teams and recovered a femur and a pelvic bone. Subsequent forensic analysis determined the bones came from the same individual and showed they belonged to a man between the ages of 15 and 32. There was no match for a relative donor.

That year, the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office, with support from the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), and the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Team, initiated a genetic genealogical survey to identify new developments in DNA to use science. The skeletal evidence was sent to Othram’s lab in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram used Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing® to create a comprehensive DNA profile from the skeletal remains, and this DNA profile was returned to investigators, who used the profile in a genealogical search. This investigation led to the identification of the remains as those of Rogers “Roger” Lee Ellis, who was born in Wisconsin Rapids in 1954. The investigation revealed that in 1976 Ellis faced legal troubles related to a marijuana possession arrest. Ellis told his family he didn’t want to go to jail and was going west. Ellis had no further contact with his family.

Investigators believe Ellis was hitchhiking when he left Wisconsin in December 1976. Authorities believe he was killed by the person or persons he was traveling with and they left his body in Montana and continued on their way.

The Montana Sheriff’s Department has opened a cold murder investigation. This investigation is based on information from those who knew Ellis in the 1970s. CCSO is working with detectives in Wisconsin and neighboring jurisdictions to try to identify additional information about Ellis and all friends and associates in 1976, as well as other similar cases in the area during that time frame, that could help identify those responsible for the termination to identify the young man’s life.

Anyone with information regarding this case should contact the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office, Detective Mahoney 406-445-7284 or [email protected]