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Custom belt buckle helped ID murder victim 35 years after body was found, sheriff's office says

Posted at 1:25 PM, Oct 20, 2020

A Florida sheriff's office says it was able to identify a murder victim 35 years after he went missing thanks to the victim's custom belt buckle.

According to the Pensacola Journal News, officials with the Escambia County Sheriff's Office said they were successfully able to identify the body of William Ernest Thompson 37 years after he went missing.

The WKMG-TV in Orlando reports that the body was found Jan. 23, 1985 about 10 miles northwest of downtown Pensacola. Officials suspected that the man had been dead for months, and possibly more than a year before it had been found.

For more than three decades, the department could not find a lead in the case. The suspected murder victim was only identified as "John Doe."

It wasn't until 2018, when a person searching for a missing relative, stumbled upon the case on the Escambia County Sheriff's Office (ECSO) website. Knowing their relative had last been seen in Escambia County, the person contacted the department.

But authorities said they didn't truly have a lead in the case until the relative noticed the victim's belt buckle, which matched the initials of thier uncle, William Thompson.

"The thing that stuck out to the person the most was the victim's belt buckle with the hand-engraved initials' W.T." Chief Deputy Chip Simmons of the ECSO said in a Facebook post. "The person felt this could have been their missing uncle, whose last known location was in Escambia County near the same time John Doe's body was discovered."

The relative said that while he had never been reported missing, no one in their family had spoken to their uncle, William Thompson, since 1983. Officials took a sample of the tipster's DNA, and compared with the DNA of the body. Test results confirmed the body was that of William Thompson.

Thompson would have been 49 when his body was found in 1985.

"This is another example of the never-ending quest for justice,” ECSO Chief Deputy Chip Simmons said in a written statement. “While we haven’t yet solved the homicide, it is a step forward and can give the family some closure until the case is solved.”

The case is still open and being investigated as a homicide.