When Richard Thomas Alt disappeared, his daughter was 11 years old. Now, decades later, she played a crucial role in identifying her father’s skull, which was found on the Delaware River in Pennsylvania in 1986.
Her father was 31 when he was reported missing in early 1985, according to a Jan. 30 news release from the Bucks County Attorney’s Office. Alt’s parents last saw him alive on Christmas Eve 1984.
“At the time of his disappearance, Alt and his girlfriend were suspected murder victims in New Jersey,” officials said. Her body, found in April 1985, was in the Delaware River in Mercer County, New Jersey.
More than a year later, in June 1986, a fisherman found a human skull on the banks of the Delaware River in Pennsylvania, according to prosecutors. Authorities could not identify the skull.
“Bucks County detectives took possession of the human skull in October 2019 during an investigation into a homicide investigation, but then turned it over to the Bucks County Coroner’s Office,” officials said. “Later that year, the Bucks County Coroner’s Office entered the skull into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) database.”
Then, in September 2022, detectives retrieved the skull and shipped it to Othram, a forensic genealogy lab in Texas that was offering its services free of charge, the publication said.
The skull recently matched the DNA of a user who uploaded a profile to a public genealogy database, officials said. The user was a 49-year-old woman from Florida.
Detectives spoke to the woman and learned that her father disappeared decades ago.
She agreed to share her DNA results from a genealogy website with Othram, authorities said, and Othram confirmed the skull belonged to her father.
“I can’t imagine wondering and worrying about a lost family member for even a day, let alone 37 years. That wait is now over for Mr. Alt’s family,” District Attorney Matthew Weintraub said in the release. “I’m just glad that with that identification and the eventual return of his remains to his family, we were able to give them some peace of mind.”
The investigation of the skull by the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office was dropped “due to lack of evidence of a crime committed in Bucks County,” authorities said. But the investigation into the deaths are considered unresolved in Mercer County, according to prosecutors.