After having been nameless for more than 40 years, it took just a few hours for the DNA Doe Project to identify James Paul Freund.
“It was a quick solve,” said Jennifer Randolph, co-leader on the team that was able to identify the Lancaster native as the Sumter Jock Doe.
Volunteer genealogists with DDP were able to find two of Freund’s second cousins “within a matter of hours” after running DNA extracted from his teeth through public databases built by people who use DNA testing kits like 23andMe, Ancestry.com or MyHeritage.
“That was a sign that this was probably going to be a pretty easy case to solve,” Randolph said.
DDP worked backward from there, building family trees for the two relatives until they reached a common ancestor. Volunteers then began combing through the descendants of that ancestor, searching for someone who matched the Doe’s approximate age.
DDP volunteers mostly ignored theories shared among amateur sleuths, including that the Doe could have been French Canadian, throughout their search, Randolph said.
“It’s the DNA evidence that guides us,” she said.
One key detail volunteers did pay attention to was a clue that was carved into a distinctive ring found on Freund’s body: the initials “JPF.”
“We weren’t going to hang our hat on those initials, but we were thinking about that as we worked,” Randolph said.
Surely enough, a volunteer found a descendant in the right age range with those initials: James Paul Freund.
Volunteers quickly found newspaper clippings of Freund’s family trying to declare him legally dead due to his disappearance in 1975, another detail that matched the Sumter Jock Doe’s timeline, Randolph said.
Now suspecting that Freund was their man, DDP then matched the Doe to descendants of each of Freund’s four grandparents and presented their findings to law enforcement — just hours after they began their work.
It’s after a Doe is identified that reality begins to set in, Randolph said.
“As exciting as it is to have solved this puzzle, you then are back to the human side of it, and you know that a family is going to get a very difficult phone call or a knock on the door with difficult news,” she said.
DDP is a volunteer organization staffed by “tenacious puzzle-solvers,” Randolph said, and their work on Freund’s case was financed entirely through a fundraiser by the “Crime Junkie” podcast and other donors.
“We want to be able to give these Does their names back so they can have the dignity of being laid to rest with their identity,” Randolph said of the group. “Everyone just wants to matter. If we can give them their name and lay them to rest with their name, then they matter.
“I don’t think we can give closure to families, but we can at least give them answers.”