HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - A decades old cold case, could finally be solved and bring closure to a family who hasn't heard from their son since 1973. Joseph "Joey" Spears was last seen 42 years ago, after he escaped from the Harrison County Youth Detention Center. He was 17 years old. His family never heard from him again
"We used national databases to search for him and we couldn't find where his name, date of birth, or social security number had ever been used since 1973," said Investigator Bill Scarbrough.
In 2013, almost four decades after his disappearance, Joey's sister contacted the Harrison County Sheriff's Department. His case file was located, and they added his name to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, also known as NAMUS.
"NAMUS helped us also by getting with the family out in California and we were able to recover the mother and the brother's DNA," said Scarbrough.
Fast forward to December 2015, a curious employee working at a Galveston, Texas cemetery starts looking into identifying a John Doe who was buried there in August of 1973. That would have been about a month after Joey disappeared from Gulfport.
"She went to the website and typed in the different physical characteristics of that person in that cemetery and Joey's name matched," said Scarbrough.
The cemetery worker contacted the Harrison County's sheriff's department. They began working together to connect the dots. There was enough evidence to obtain a court order to exhume the body for DNA testing.
"The condition of the body that was exhumed was astonishing to our perspective, plenty of samples to recover," said Scarbrough.
Those samples have been sent to the University of North Texas in Fort Worth. It could take four months at the earliest before they get an answer.
"We're hopeful that we can solve this by identifying that person as Joey, but it's not over until that's done," said Scarbrough.
Investigator Scarbrough said the Spears family is hopeful, but realistic that the DNA from the body may not be Joey's.