Unidentified: 40 years later, man’s identity still unknown after he fell off cliff and died

Updated: Oct. 9, 2020 at 6:00 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A tragic accident from nearly 40 years ago killed a man and his identity is still unknown decades later.

He fell off a cliff in a local park in May of 1981 and died.

But the search for his name and his family isn’t over.

The case is still open at the medical examiner’s office.

Investigator Sara Goldenberg continues our new series Unidentified.

The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office has more than 50 cases of unidentified bodies, and this man is one of them.

19 Investigates continues to profile several cases.

What we know

The man was visiting from out of town when a terrible accident ended his life.

“He said he was from LA, his name was Joe. He said that he got robbed at E. 30th or 31st Street. And didn’t have money to get back to LA,” said Angie Fischer with the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office.

She’s trying to crack the case, years later.

“Joe” climbed a 75-foot-tall cliff called Castle Rock at Cleveland Metroparks in South Euclid.

Investigators said he met up with some guys he didn’t know too well and they had a few drinks.

“They picked up another guy in between and they were four guys, drinking in the Metro Parks. And three of them climbed back down in the car to go get more liquor and he fell off the rock,” Fischer said.

But the true identity of “Joe” is still a mystery.

Boots, socks and a hat this man was found with after he died.
Boots, socks and a hat this man was found with after he died.(Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office)

The evidence

The men he was with called police and Metroparks rangers, filling them in on what they did know.

“Joe” said he spent time in New York, New Jersey and Los Angeles.

Investigators found he was 25 to 30 years old, 5 foot 7 and 146 pounds.

He had brown eyes and hair and was wearing several layers of clothing.

One shirt stood out to investigators.

“He was wearing a T-shirt that said Don Bosco Tech physical education, so we contacted the Don Bosco schools, there’s one in California and there’s one in New Jersey,” Fischer said.

They shared information about the case on the alumni website for Don Bosco Tech schools.

19 Investigates learned the medical examiner’s office got one tip after they reached out to the school system.

But that person was found alive.

One theory now is the shirt could have been donated and maybe he didn’t attend that school.

The Don Bosco Tech shirt "Joe" was wearing that led investigators to question whether he was an...
The Don Bosco Tech shirt "Joe" was wearing that led investigators to question whether he was an alumni.(Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office)

They have his dental records and fingerprints, but all of this evidence hasn’t been enough.

“We’ve gotten some leads, not a whole lot though,” Fischer said.

Investigators could exhume this man at some point for DNA, but they don’t have anyone to compare it to.

If he looks familiar, call the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office at 216-721-5610 and select 1, then ask for the Investigations Department.

You can read more about his case on NamUs here.

You can watch the entire Unidentified series on our Apple TV, Roku, Amazon and mobile apps.

We also have summaries of each case here.

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