July 27, 2011— -- The remains of Joseph Schexnider, missing for 27 years, were finally discovered lodged in a brick chimney at the Abbeville National Bank in Louisiana.
The bones were found in May when the bank was renovating the second floor, which had long been used for storage, to make more office space.
The identity of the body was confirmed this week through DNA.
"This was absolutely the first chimney recovery we had ever had," said Mary Manhein, head of FACES, the lab at Louisiana State University that identified Schexnider's bones.
There weren't any dental records available so the lab relied on DNA evidence after police obtained a reference sample from Schexnider's family, who live in the area.
"I would submit he died within a few days maximum of when he went into that chimney," said Manhein.
But as to how he died, or why he was in the chimney to begin with, Manhein says, "Nobody will ever know."
Police discovered a pair of gloves among the remains, but can only speculate as to the significance.
Joseph Schexnider Found in Chimney After 27 Years
They don't suspect foul play, Manhein said. The bones showed no signs of trauma.
The chimney at Abbeville National Bank opens on the second floor, a space the bank had been using for storage.
In May the bank was in the process of renovating that floor to create additional offices. A contractor installing plywood first found the bones in the chimney while removing a metal shield covering the face of the fireplace. It was then that he discovered small bones and clothing at the base of the fireplace. The majority of the body appeared to have gotten stuck just above the fireplace in the narrow flue.
The bank called the district attorney's office, and they notified police.
"We went out there and we were in awe actually. It's not your typical case," said Abbeville police spokesman David Hardy.
A spokesman from the bank declined comment.
Schexnider, who was 26 when he disappeared, had served in the National Guard and also worked in the circus for several months until the circus left the country.
"Periodically he had been known to leave town," said Hardy.
When he disappeared in January 1984 the family reportedly thought he might be running from the law because he had failed to appear in court for possession of a stolen vehicle.
His mother didn't file a missing persons report, Hardy said, assuming her son was on one of his "rendezvous."
When Schexnider's mother was first notified earlier this week, Hardy said, she "took it really rough."
"Now that his mother knows her son is deceased I guess it gives her some kind of closure," Hardy said.