A UMNS News FeatureBy Cathy Farmer*
John Doe was somebody's son.
The young man - handsome and athletic -- tried to talk a ticket agent at Barkley Regional Airport near Paducah, Ky., into swapping a leather bomber jacket for a plane ticket out West. Told by the agent "that's not the way it works," he scaled the fence around the airfield, chased and caught the undercarriage of a plane as it taxied down the runway and hung on until it reached an altitude of 300 feet. Then he fell to his death. The date was Sept. 30, 1991.
"John Doe" had no identification. McCracken County coroner Jerry Beyer,called to the scene, was determined to find his family.
"I autopsied the young man, fingerprinted him and took pictures," said Beyer, a member of Paducah's Concord United Methodist Church. "Then I embalmed him so we could keep his body as long as possible. I wanted to find his family. I have children of my own, and I know I'd want to know what happened to them."
Beyer entered John Doe's fingerprints on the National Crime Information Computer, hoping to get a match. He urged the local newspaper, The Paducah Sun, to run stories. But there were no nibbles.
After a year, Beyer and his pastor, the Rev. Joe Geary, arranged a memorial service for the man the whole community now called "our" John Doe.
"It was a struggle to know what to say," admitted Geary, pastor of Concord Church at the time. "The challenge was to do a meaningful Christian service when you knew nothing about the person. I eventually chose a passage from Leviticus where God calls upon the children of Israel to welcome the stranger, the alien at their gate." The verse was appropriate. Paducah did welcome this stranger, adopting him as one of their own.
"We didn't bury him in a pauper's grave," Beyer said. "A grave site was donated at Oak Grove Cemetery." Everything for the burial was donated including a large monument engraved with his story and the name John Doe.
Claudia Speed, one of the local florists, sent a casket spray of red roses.On the card she wrote, "From your mother. I know she cares." Speed's own son had died the year before. The hundreds who attended the memorial service to say good-bye did not forget him as the years went by. Every year, on the anniversary of his death, flowers would appear on the grave under the big tree.
Beyer didn't give up. "We don't accept defeatism around here," he declared."I don't like to be a loser." For almost eight years, he kept searching. He even managed to get the case on the "Unsolved Mysteries" TV show in 1992."We had over 300 calls from people looking for a loved one," he said, "but none of them were our John Doe.
" When the show was rebroadcast in 1997, it was seen by Dee Duecker, the wife of a United Methodist pastor in Edenton, Ohio, just outside Cincinnati. Duecker and her husband Gerald were searching for their missing 28-year-old son, Brian Stanley Duecker. Brian disappeared on Sept. 26, 1991.
"I called, but they told me it wasn't Brian," Dee Duecker said. "The description didn't match completely. But somehow, I just knew it was him. It stayed in the back of my mind.
"Beyer continued to work the case and prodded Paducah Sun reporter Bill Bartleman to write another story on John Doe. Bartleman added the stories to his personal Internet Web site. That's where Dee Duecker found them a few weeks ago.
"I did a search for information about the Paducah airport death," she said."That's when I found Bill's story." She sent him an e-mail requesting information.
"She had a picture of her stepson on her own Web site," said Bartleman. "It ook it to Jerry Beyer. We felt sure it was our John Doe."
A search was made for Brian's fingerprints. The match with was perfect.Paducah's John Doe had a name and a family.
"We spent so many years trying to find Brian," said Gerald Duecker. "We were relieved. It was difficult to lose him but it was so comforting to know that he was adopted by the community, that he had a Christian burial.
"Brian was schizophrenic," he explained. "He saw nothing as impossible. I'm sure he thought he could jump on that plane and ride it out west."The Duecker family visited Brian's grave in Paducah in June and promised to come back Sept. 18, bringing another headstone with Brian's real name on it.They expressed gratitude for the whole town taking their son into their hearts.
They also visited Concord Church with Beyer. The current pastor, the Rev.Barry Scott, said the Dueckers asked him to thank the congregation. "They said they were overwhelmed with how kind everyone had been."
# # #*Farmer is communications director of the United Methodist Church's MemphisAnnual Conference. This story first appeared in the conference edition ofthe United Methodist Reporter.wfn.org | Paducah, Ky.'s 'John Doe' was somebody's beloved son