For nearly 40 years, the remains of a body found on an abandoned farm in rural Indiana were known as those of Adam Doe.
The remains were discovered in October 1983 along with those of three other bodies. All four were victims of Larry Eyler, the serial killer known as the Highway Killer, who murdered at least 21 young men, the authorities said. He preyed across the Midwest, and some of his victims were young gay men whom he stabbed several times. He died in prison in 1994 while on death row for the 1984 murder of 15-year-old Danny Bridges of Chicago, according to court documents.
Mr. Eyler admitted to several murders, including of two people whose bodies were among the four found on the farm. The authorities concluded that he had killed all four people.
Two of the victims were identified within months. A third victim was identified in 2021. But the fourth victim remained unidentified until this week, when the Newton County Coroner’s Office in Indiana said that Adam Doe had been identified as Keith Lavell Bibbs, of Chicago, who was 16 when he disappeared.
Keith’s remains were identified after his DNA was matched to a DNA sample from a surviving brother as part of a collaborative effort between the Newton County Coroner’s Office in Indiana and the DNA Doe Project, which works on cases involving unidentified human remains.
“I’ve known this young man as Adam just as long as the family knew him as Keith,” Scott McCord, the Newton County coroner, said on Thursday. “It’s kind of strange.”
Mr. McCord said that Keith’s remains would be delivered next week to his family, who could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
The coroner’s office said it would release more information about the case after the “family has had time to grieve and they give permission to release more detailed information.”
“It is the hopes of this office that the family’s wishes will be honored and that they be given the time that they need to deal with this development,” the office added.
It’s unclear how the four victims were killed. Two of them, Michael Bauer and John Bartlett, were identified early in the investigation. But it would take decades for the other two victims, referred to as Adam Doe and Brad Doe, to be identified.
When Mr. McCord began working as the Newton County coroner in 2009, he ordered anthropological and dental analyses, facial sketches and DNA tests to determine the identities of the remains. None of those efforts helped.
“I don’t know how many times you’re ready to give up,” Mr. McCord said.
In 2016, he decided to hold a “pseudo funeral” for the two unidentified victims, whose remains, he said, have been “sitting on a shelf.”
“I know nobody would have the passion that I did to get these kids identified,” Mr. McCord said, adding that 19 high school students volunteered to be pallbearers for the two victims, and that nearly 100 people showed up for the ceremony.
“Oh God, it was unbelievably emotional,” he said. “Nobody knew who they were, but the people of our county just kind of took them in as their own.”
Then, in 2019, Newton County officials reached out to the DNA Doe Project with Brad Doe’s case. After sequencing Brad Doe’s DNA, they were able to find matches to several close relatives of Brad Doe to identify the remains as belonging to John Ingram Brandenburg Jr., a 19-year-old from Chicago who went to a friend’s house one day and never made it home.
With the success in identifying Mr. Brandenburg, Mr. McCord then took the Adam Doe case to the DNA Doe Project in 2020.
“Working with highly degraded DNA, the case spent more than two years in the labs where multiple attempts were made to create a workable DNA profile that could be uploaded to the databases used for forensic cases,” the DNA Doe Project said in a statement this week.
Mr. McCord said DNA was taken from Keith’s bones, which were “really, really degraded.”
Once they had DNA that they could work with, a team of investigative genetic genealogists began in January to try to find DNA matches. Mr. McCord said they reached out to people they thought could be related to Keith, in some cases even knocking on doors. Eventually, they tracked down a man who would later turn out to be a first cousin of Keith. The man told Mr. McCord that he had a cousin who disappeared in 1983.
“Literally everything he started telling us about this young man just fell right into place,” Mr. McCord said.
Keith’s cousin, whom investigators declined to name, led them to one of Keith’s brothers, whose DNA confirmed a match.
“I think it was a shock” to the family, Mr. McCord said.
Keith Bibbs was one of more than 20 people who were murdered by Mr. Eyler in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. Mr. Eyler was arrested in Chicago in October 1983, when he was charged with killing Ralph E. Calise, 28, of Chicago, whose body had been found a couple of months before in Lake County, north of the city.
Mr. Eyler later admitted to killing several other people, including two on the Indiana farm where Keith’s remains were found. In a letter dated Dec. 18, 1990, Mr. Eyler wrote that he killed “an unidentified Black male in his late teens or early 20s in mid-July 1983” by an abandoned farmhouse in Indiana. Keith was Black. The three other victims found on the farm were white.
It’s unclear how Keith and the other victims ended up in Indiana. Mr. McCord said that one of Keith’s relatives long believed that he had run away from home.
“I know it was a shock when they found out how he died,” Mr. McCord said about telling Keith’s family that his remains had been identified. “But it brings some sense of comfort, knowing where he’s at, and pretty soon he’ll be back home where he belongs.”
Kirsten Noyes contributed research.