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The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh anthropology department is getting quite a reputation for its efforts in the identification and analysis of human skeletal remains.

Jordan Karsten, department chair of anthropology, global religions and cultures, and his former students are being credited by the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office in assisting with the recovery and analysis of a human skeleton in May 2015 in the town of Vinland, just north of Oshkosh. The Sheriff’s Office made an announcement Tuesday evening on the identification of the remains as those of Roland D. Klug of Oshkosh. A Vietnam War veteran, Klug was born in 1949 and was a native of Waupun.

Roland Klug

“For me, the best part of it is we have an ID six years later and closure for the family,” said Karsten, who was a new UWO faculty member in 2015 called in to assist with the case.

Identity eludes authorities

The remains of the then-unidentified man were discovered April 29, 2015, by a person near the railroad tracks on County Trunk GG in Winnebago County. Authorities said they did not believe foul play was involved in the man’s death. They had reasons to believe the body ended up at the scene between January 2013 and December 2014.

“I actually went with students and sifted through dirt,” Karsten said. “We sifted and excavated and were able to recover more skeletal elements.”

Karsten examined bones to determine some limited identifying characteristics―that the remains were from a white male who was older.

When early DNA samples did not yield satisfactory samples, Karsten suggested authorities try and obtain a sample from the petrous pyramid of the temporal bone. Karsten said DNA is known to be best-preserved in this area―where the organs of the inner ear are held. Particularly satisfying, was learning the sample had more than enough DNA for sophisticated analysis.

The identification came with the assistance of Othram Inc. of Texas―a private DNA lab that utilizes a method involving genome sequencing to process forensic evidence. Othram generated a genealogical profile for the unknown man and it was used to search for relatives of the deceased. When a potential link was uncovered, the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office contacted the family and acquired additional DNA that eventually confirmed the identification.

Karsten said it is remarkable an identification was made―there were a couple of earlier “Cold Case” segments on regional news shows that did not yield an identity and now more than six years have passed since the discovery.

“I think that speaks to the tenacity of the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office,” he said.

UWO students assist with the search for the remains of Starkie Swenson in spring 2021.

Cold case closure

Karsten was in the news earlier this year for his efforts to utilize students to help search for the remains of Starkie Swenson, a 1983 murder victim whose body has not been found. Karsten’s anthropology students conducted multiple digs at a property in Omro during spring and summer this year, but did not find the Neenah victim.

The work was overseen by detectives from the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office. A podcast, Cold Case Frozen Tundra, co-hosted by Karsten, detailed the efforts over several months.

More recently, Karsten was involved in analysis of human remains found by hikers at High Cliff State Park in Calumet County. Identity of the remains is pending.

The requests from agencies around Wisconsin have continued over the years, and the professor said this year has been the busiest he’s experienced. UWO students are often involved in the responses.

Lt. Chris Braman of the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department said they “greatly appreciate Dr. Karsten’s help” in identifying Klug.

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