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John Doe 1994

The John Doe case was a landmark missing person case for the New South Wales Institute of Forensic Medicine at the Glebe Morgue. In August 1994, a trawler sailing on the Hawkesbury River pulled up a plastic-wrapped body tied to a steel-framed cross. The remains were taken to the morgue, where Dr Chris Lawrence estimated that they had been submerged in the water between six to nine months earlier. DNA analysis was still a number of years off, and no missing persons reports matched the details of the body. [1] The case was given the official name of ‘Unknown Human Remains E48293’, but became colloquially known as Rack Man or John Doe, a typical name given to unidentified male bodies.[2]

The features able to be recorded by forensic pathologists were sketchy at best: the body was male with dark hair, of European descent, 160–166cm tall and aged between twenty-one and forty-six.[3] The fingerprints of the body had dissolved due to extensive contact with water. Forensic dentist Dr Chris Griffiths, who would later work on the identification of victims of the Bali Bombings), examined the teeth and found no fillings; as a consequence, dental records of the man were unlikely to be distinctive. Dr Griffiths did conclude that the face had possibly been misshapen due to the formation of the teeth.

During 1994, the police investigation team asked various experts at the University of Sydney to gather information on the Rack Man case. Emeritus Professor Donald Anderson examined barnacles from the steel rack, while forensic anthropologist Dr Denise Donlon supervised a facial reconstruction of the victim.[4] Dr Meiya Sutisno carried out the reconstruction at the Institute of Forensic Medicine as part of her PhD studies, using measurements of the skull to create an accurate, if haunting, portrait of the man. Sutisno’s reconstruction was then fed into a computer and published in local newspapers.[5] A flood of leads resulted from the publicity around the Rack Man case, with many allegations associating the body with notorious crime gangs and underground figures from around New South Wales.

Following the extensive investigation into John Doe’s identity, the case was referred to State Coroner Derrick Windsor Hand in 1995. The lack of conclusive evidence meant that the coroner returned an open verdict, finding that:

Unknown Human Remains E48293 ... were those of a male Caucasian who died from the effects of blunt force head injuries inflicted by a person or persons unknown. But as to when and where the deceased person died and the identity of such deceased person, the evidence does not enable me to say.[6]

The remains of John Doe were kept at Glebe Morgue for over twenty years, until advances in DNA technology could find a match. In August 2018, NSW Deputy State Coroner Paul MacMahon finally ruled on the identification of the body: the mysterious remains belonged to Max Tancevski, who was last seen leaving his home in Newtown in January 1993.[7] The circumstances around Tancevski’s death remain unknown.

Notes

[1] Nathan Jolly, 2018. ‘Mystery of the body on the cross’. The Daily Examiner, accessed 20 November 2020 https://www.dailyexaminer.com.au/news/who-is-the-mystery-man-found-in-the-hawkesbury-tie/3485387

[2] Justine Ford, 2015. ‘The mystery of “Rack Man”, tied to a crucifix and dumped in the Hawkesbury River’, News.com, accessed 20 November 2020 https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/true-stories/the-mystery-of-rack-man-tied-to-a-crucifix-and-dumped-in-the-hawkesbury-river/news-story/ebe70da893b76b75dfdb1130f813acc6

[3] Nathan Jolly, 2018. ‘Mystery of the body on the cross’. The Daily Examiner, accessed 20 November 2020 https://www.dailyexaminer.com.au/news/who-is-the-mystery-man-found-in-the-hawkesbury-tie/3485387

[4] Nathan Jolly, 2018. ‘Mystery of the body on the cross’. The Daily Examiner, accessed 20 November 2020 https://www.dailyexaminer.com.au/news/who-is-the-mystery-man-found-in-the-hawkesbury-tie/3485387

[5] Nathan Jolly, 2018. ‘Mystery of the body on the cross’. The Daily Examiner, accessed 20 November 2020 https://www.dailyexaminer.com.au/news/who-is-the-mystery-man-found-in-the-hawkesbury-tie/3485387 >

[6] Col Allison, 1996. ‘Unknown Bones’. The Sydney Morning Herald, accessed 20 November 2020 http://www.australianmissingpersonsregister.com/Biviano.htm

[7]‘Crucified body of NSW’s “Rack Man” identified after 25 years’. The Daily Telegraph, 2018, accessed 20 November 2020 https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/national/crucified-body-of-nsws-rack-man-identified-after-25-years/video/6d5c438116c9c4747372a237ed933f8d