43-year Rhinelander cold case ends
Identity of 1980 John Doe confirmed
For the Star Journal
ONEIDA COUNTY – Students at a New Jersey college have determined the identity of a “John Doe” whose body was found in Oneida County more than 43 years ago. The deceased male found in a field off Highway 17, between Rhinelander and Eagle River on March 19, 1980, has been confirmed to be Norman Grasser of Chicago, Ill.
The Oneida County Medical Examiner’s Office along with the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call in the Town of Pine Lake and located the male, with the assistance of the witnesses, who initially located the body in the snow. The body was located approximately 46 yards off of Highway 17, on private property. There was no identification on the body.
A forensic autopsy was performed at the University of Wisconsin, and it was determined that the male had died from cold exposure due to hypothermia. The male was described as a white male between the ages of 25-45 years of age, just over six feet tall and 170 pounds, with brown hair. The male’s clothing and other belongings were collected by the Sheriff’s Office to assist in identification.
The unidentified male’s fingerprints were sent to the State Crime Laboratory as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation for possible identification, with negative matches.
Over time, this case continued to be investigated through missing persons report follow ups and press releases.
In 2019, the unidentified male was entered into NamUs, a national database for missing and unidentified and unclaimed person cases across the United States. Multiple possible matches were generated and followed up on, with no positive matches
In April 2021, the Oneida County Medical Examiner’s Office exhumed the body of John Doe 1980. The body was taken to the Fond du Lac Medical Examiner’s Office to be processed for DNA collection. Once this was completed, the collected items were sent to the FBI Laboratory in Quantico for DNA profiling.
In January 2023, the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office enlisted the assistance of Ramapo College of New Jersey Investigative Genetic Genealogy Center, to perform advanced forensic DNA testing of John Doe 1980 and a genealogy search. As a result of the work performed by students in the Ramapo College IGG Certificate Program, a new investigative lead was developed, resulting in Mr. Grasser’s identification. According to a news release from Ramapo College, Grasser’s brother had been searching for him and created a “FindAGrave” page noting the date of his brother’s death was the day he was reported missing in Cook County, Ill., Jan. 20, 1980.
Oneida County Medical Examiner Crystal Schaub stated in a news release the Grasser family is “grateful to everyone involved for ending their 43 year nightmare.”