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Remains found in Rockdale more than 25 years ago identified as Aurora woman – Chicago Tribune

Human remains discovered in Rockdale in 1997 have now been identified as those of an Aurora woman, according to the Will County Coroner’s Office.

After an investigation conducted by the Will County Coroner’s Cold Case Division, the Will County Sheriff’s Office and private forensic laboratory Othram Inc., the remains have been identified as those of Marie R. O’Brien of Aurora. The cause of her death remains undetermined, according to a Facebook post from the coroner’s office Friday.

On May 13, 1997, an archeologist from the University of Illinois was working at a construction landfill in Rockdale when he found a human bone, according to the Facebook post. Further investigation by the Will County Sheriff’s Office resulted in numerous human skeletal remains, most of which had been broken and were at various layers of the fill, but all within the construction debris, officials said.

The debris came from a building in Joliet known as the Rust Craft building, which opened in 1907, according to the coroner’s office. From 1986 to 1992 the building was abandoned, officials said.

In 1992 fire destroyed the bulk of the building, according to the coroner’s office, and excess debris was removed while the rest was used to fill the basement.

In 1995 the basement area was excavated and the debris removed to Rockdale. It was in that debris that the bones were found, officials said.

In 2009 Will County Coroner Patrick K. O’Neil formed a cold case unit which began to work to identify the remains in this case, according to the coroner’s office. Over the years forensic anthropology studies were completed and DNA evidence was entered into the national missing and unidentified persons databases, officials said.

In 2021 the Will County Coroner’s Office partnered with Othram Inc. of Texas on the case, officials said. Othram’s lab was able to develop a DNA profile and their genealogists narrowed down family leads to a few people.

Cold case investigators then interviewed several people in Illinois, Texas and California, according to the Facebook post. Othram narrowed the search through additional DNA profiling and genealogy studies to one person in California. Their investigation indicated the person could be a brother of the unidentified woman whose remains were found, according to officials.

Investigators from the coroner’s office interviewed the man and determined that he had a sister that he had last had contact with in 1984, according to the Facebook post. Subsequent testing led officials to identify the remains as belonging to O’Brien.

The investigation continues into the case by both the Will County Coroner’s Office and the Will County Sheriff’s cold case investigators, officials said.

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