Victim of 1986 slaying identified
Investigators Tuesday announced a break in a 22-year-old Mesa County homicide case, using a fingerprint match to identify a man whose body was found in a canal.
Bill Ray Adkins was 54 when a railroad worker spotted his nude body floating in a canal near a transient camp in the area of the Interstate 70 Business Loop and 28 1/4 Road on July 13, 1986, according to authorities. The Montrose County Coroner’s Office said Adkins sustained upper-body injuries consistent with a fight and ruled his death a homicide.
Mesa County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Heather Benjamin said Adkins was identified through fingerprints police obtained from him after a 1984 arrest in Texas. But it wasn’t until the FBI launched a national fingerprint database in 1999 and authorities ran
Adkins’ fingerprints through that database earlier this year that a positive match was made, in part because investigators lost track of Adkins’ remains for nearly 20 years.
Benjamin said investigators turned over Adkins’ remains or a portion of his remains to an anthropologist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins in the late 1980s. She said the anthropologist, who worked with several law-enforcement agencies on cold cases, examined the remains and created a clay mold of Adkins’ face that investigators could publicize in an effort to identify him.
But Benjamin said there was no documentation in the case file that Adkins’ remains had been shipped off to the anthropologist. Current investigators didn’t realize Adkins’ remains were elsewhere until the anthropologist died in 2005 and all of the remains connected to the cases he had worked, including Adkins’, were sent back to the original investigating
law-enforcement agency, she said.
“It then became a real case for us again,” she said.
“When we knew what he had, we worked it. It’s not a knock on investigators in the 1980s. It was just a different time, a different technology, a different database system.”
Two years ago, the Sheriff’s Department sent one of Adkins’ bones to the University of North Texas Health Science Center. Officials there were able to extract DNA but could not match it to anyone in a national DNA database, Benjamin said.
Sheriff’s investigators learned about the fingerprint match earlier this month and were able to find and notify Adkins’ brother in Texas. The brother appreciated the notification but didn’t want to speak publicly about it, Benjamin said.
The discovery of Adkins’ remains was detailed in a Daily Sentinel article on July 14, 1986.
Investigators made public drawings of Adkins’ likeness and interviewed people who lived in the transient camp near where Adkins’ body was found, Benjamin said. But no one came forward to identify him, and no suspects were identified.
Benjamin said Adkins’ brother told investigators that Adkins told his family in Texas in 1985 that he was headed to Colorado.
“He didn’t say where, just that he was going to Colorado, and that was it,” she said.
Investigators don’t know much else about Adkins, such as how long he was in Mesa County or whether anyone employed him.
Anyone with information is asked to contact sheriff’s investigator Lissah Norcross at 970-244-3252.