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Ramapo College IGG Students Use Investigative Genetic Genealogy to Identify John Doe in 43-year Cold Case

Black and white yearbook photo of Norman Grasser wearing a suit and tie.

Norman Grasser of Chicago, IL Identified by Ramapo College of New Jersey

Students of the Ramapo College of New Jersey Investigative Genetic Genealogy (IGG) Center have successfully uncovered the identity of “Rhinelander John Doe,” now known to be Mr. Norman Grasser of Chicago, IL through DNA testing and investigative genetic genealogy. 

The Chronology

On March 19, 1980, the Oneida County Medical Examiner’s Office along with the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call about a body found in the snow in a field in the Town of Pine Lake, WI approximately 46 yards off of Highway 17. No identification was found on the body. A forensic autopsy performed at the University of Wisconsin determined that the male died from cold exposure due to hypothermia. Fingerprints sent to the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory and Federal Bureau of Investigation did not confirm an identity. The case continued to be investigated through missing persons reports and press releases through the years. 

Newspaper clipping announcing missing person with artist's sketch of "Rhinelander John Doe" missing

In 2019, the unidentified male was entered into NamUs. Multiple potential matches were all confirmed to be negative. 

In April 2021, the Oneida County Medical Examiner’s Office exhumed the body of John Doe 1980. The body was taken to the Fond du Lac Medical Examiner’s Office to be processed for DNA collection. The collected items were sent to the FBI Laboratory in Quantico for DNA profiling.  

In January 2023, the Ramapo College IGG Center was enlisted by the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office in Rhinelander, WI to assist with identifying “Rhinelander John Doe.” 

In February, the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office sent a portion of John Doe’s lower jaw to Intermountain Forensics where DNA extraction, whole genome sequencing, and bioinformatics were performed. 

In May, the same month that Intermountain successfully generated a SNP profile which was uploaded to the DNA databases GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA, students in the Ramapo College IGG Certificate Program investigated genetic matches of “Rhinelander John Doe” and identified Norman Grasser as a candidate.

Mr.Grasser’s brother had been searching for him for over 40 years and even created a FindAGrave page noting that the date of Mr. Grasser’s death was the day he was reported missing, January 20, 1980, in Chicago, IL. 

DNA testing and the work of the Ramapo College IGG Center were able to bring closure to Mr. Grasser’s family, who are grateful for identifying Mr. Grasser after 43 years, and wish for privacy to grieve and process this information.

IGG combines traditional genealogy and genetic genealogy to provide investigative leads in cases involving violent crime and unidentified human remains. IGG can also be used to help exonerate the wrongfully convicted. The first of its kind in the nation, the IGG Center opened in December of 2022 and trains students to become proficient and ethical practitioners using IGG to resolve cases involving violent crime, unidentified human remains, and wrongful convictions. More than 40 cases from across the United States have been accepted since the center opened. 

For more information about Ramapo College and the IGG Center, visit