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Family finds closure after forensics identifies remains of Peru man found in 1983

Billy Lewis was 19 years old when he was killed and left in a Jasper County field in 1982.

RENSSELAER, Ind. — A moment of closure came for one Indiana family at the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department Thursday night.   

It was one the family had waited for 40 years to have, finally learning what really happened to their brother and uncle, who disappeared in 1982, now finding out he was the victim of a serial killer known as “The Interstate Killer.” 

Nineteen-year-old Billy Lewis disappeared in 1982 on his way home from a funeral in Texas. 

Lewis’s mother passed away last year, never knowing what really happened to her son. 

Last week, just before Thanksgiving, Lewis’s siblings, some whom now live in Texas, learned remains found almost 40 years ago on a farm in Jasper County belonged to their brother

“My dad just said he just disappeared. He was there one day and then gone the next,” said Joshua Shuck, Lewis’s nephew, who wasn’t even born when his uncle disappeared. 

Shuck spoke at a news conference Thursday about the long-awaited closure for his family. 

“We always wanted to meet him, but everybody had that thought in the back of their head that he was gone,” Shuck said. 

What Lewis’s family didn’t know was that for decades, investigators in Jasper County had Lewis’s remains all along, but didn’t know who they belonged to, only that someone murdered him - their "John Doe."

“At the time, of course we all know, there was no such thing as DNA,” said Jasper County Coroner Andy Boersma, who inherited the cold case more than 20 years ago when he first became coroner. 

RELATED: Victim of 1982 serial killing found in Jasper Co. identified as 19-year-old Peru man

In the mid-1990s, investigators learned their John Doe was a victim of serial killer Larry Eyler, known as “The Interstate Killer” or “Highway Killer.” 

Credit: WTHR
Larry Eyler was sentenced to death for the murder of a 15-year-old boy and later confessed to more than 20 other killings.

Eyler confessed to killing at least 21 young men in the 1980s, after picking them up along the interstate in Illinois and Indiana, including the John Doe found in Jasper, although Eyler couldn’t tell investigators John Doe’s name. 

So the case went cold. 

“Here’s my case file from 22 years of my life that I spent in the coroner’s office,” said Boersma, holding up a thick binder. 

Then, last January, Boersma hired Redgrave Research Forensics Services, a genealogical forensics company, to try and help solve the almost 40-year mystery of their John Doe. 

“I’ve been entrusted with this case from three sheriffs ago and have dug at it for 20-some years,” said Boersma. 

DNA was taken from Lewis’s remains. The results were uploaded to a genealogical website, where researchers found matches that eventually led investigators to Lewis’s siblings.   

Credit: Lewis family via Redgrave Research Forensic Services
William "Bill" Lewis in an undated photo shared by his family.

When DNA samples from Lewis’s siblings matched the John Doe from Jasper County, investigators knew they’d found their John Doe’s family. 

“This is somebody’s kid and somebody has to take him home,” said Boersma of why he continued to look into finding John Doe’s identity, even though decades had passed. 

So that’s what’s going to happen in the coming weeks, when Billy Lewis is finally laid to rest next to his father. 

“We’re a close-knit family, so it’s a nice feeling to finally figure out what happened,” said Shuck.

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