The Hamilton County district attorney’s cold case unit has used dental records to identify a man who died in December 2013.
Joshua Zipperer couldn’t initially be identified when authorities found his body in a burned building, which originally housed the Hungry Fisherman Restaurant, at 6715 Ringgold Road on Dec. 25, 2013.
Investigators were unable to determine what caused the fire, but authorities determined that Zipperer died of acute alcohol overdose prior to the blaze.
A few days after the fire, his mother reported Zipperer missing to East Ridge police.
“Zipperer had been living in a homeless camp near the Hungry Fisherman building,” according to a news release. “He normally kept in frequent contact with his mom, typically calling her several times each day. His mother told police she had last seen her son at the Wendy’s on Ringgold Road around 6:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve and she had not heard from him since.”
When authorities found the body, the medical examiner could not determine the victim’s eye or hair color. And their estimates about age and height were slightly different from Zipperer’s.
But in April, cold case unit investigator Michael Ray began reviewing the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System for all cases related to this area.
“Acting on a hunch, Investigator Ray began investigating the circumstances of Joshua Zipperer’s disappearance and the possibility the fire remains belonged to the missing man,” according to the news release.
Ray tracked down Zipperer’s dental records and gave them to Dr. Heath Blockley, a Chattanooga dentist who provides forensic odontology exams for the Hamilton County medical examiner’s office.
Blockley compared Zipperer’s dental records to the dental photos taken during the autopsy and concluded they matched.
Dr. Steven Cogswell, who performed the 2013 autopsy on the fire victim, then reviewed the case and revised the autopsy report, according to the news release.