He always had a name, and now police know what it is — Phillip Peterson.
Media coverage of the case of a man found dead in the Missouri River near Williston in 1982 has led to the man’s identity. Police said his name was Phillip Peterson. No further details about Peterson were available Wednesday afternoon.
His body was disinterred Monday from the unmarked grave in Riverview Cemetery where he had laid since 1982, when boaters found his body floating in the Missouri River. There were few clues to his identity, and his body had been in the water for several days.
Investigators weren’t able to identify Peterson at the time, but the Williams County Sheriff’s Office reopened the investigation in June, after former Sheriff Scott Busching reminded investigators about the long-cold case. After an initial call for information didn’t yield any results, investigators moved forward with the disinterral, and coverage of that sparked a memory.
“Media coverage of Monday’s disinterment increased visibility of the case,” Sgt. Detective Caleb Fry wrote in a news release. “Upon seeing images of the deceased’s tattoos on a news program, a potential family member contacted the Sheriff’s Office with information.”
That led investigators to the right family, and further forensic testing verified the match, according to the sheriff’s office.
A planned autopsy happened Monday, but Coroner Frank McCoy and William Kemp, an anthropologist from the University of North Dakota, were unable to determine a cause of death. The original autopsy from 1982 was also unable to determine a cause of death.
With Peterson identified and the family notified, the sheriff’s office will be closing the case, Fry said.
In addition to McCoy and Kemp, the Everson-Coughlin Funeral Home, former Williams County Sheriff’s detectives James Quickstad and Myron Sanders, Williston officials, investigators with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Montana Department of Criminal Investigation assisted with the investigation.