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Canton Township — Detroit police officers, Michigan State Police troopers and FBI agents on Wednesday exhumed unidentified bodies buried at Knollwood Memorial Park Cemetery in an attempt to close old homicide cases.

For 24 years, Knollwood Park had a contract with Wayne County to bury cadavers whose identities were not known, although the state in December suspended all new activity at the burial ground after inspectors say they found more than 300 improperly-stored infant and fetal remains in multiple crypts.

Detroit police Chief James Craig said Wednesday’s action was unrelated to the cemetery’s closure, which stemmed from ongoing investigations into Detroit funeral homes where police found fetal and infant remains were improperly stored or buried. 

“This is just trying to get closure on old cases,” Craig said. “The identity of these bodies is unknown, and since they were buried, DNA technology has advanced a great deal, so you can go back and take a second look.”

During Wednesday's operation, investigators exhumed seven sets of remains, Detroit police Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood said.

Michigan State Police Detective Sgt. Sarah Krebs, who heads the state’s missing persons unit, said the exhumation effort is one of the largest operations she’s ever been involved in.

Krebs said authorities unearthed the remains to collect DNA samples for the victims who were buried without DNA collection. All of the cases involved in the Wednesday effort, she said, were homicides that took place after 1995, when the cemetery began burying unidentified bodies for the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office.

The DNA samples will be sent to the University of North Texas for analysis, Krebs said, adding that could take six months. 

“If you have somebody missing and you’re considering that they may be one of these victims, you should definitely call us,” Krebs said. “Our efforts are to identify and more than likely, some of these are going to be unreported missing people.”

Krebs said there are about 320 sets of unidentified remains throughout the state of Michigan. 

The eight-hour dig began Wednesday around 8 a.m. The FBI’s evidence response team offered technical assistance in examining bodies, Special Agent Mara Schneider said. 

She said the FBI and Detroit police will exhume unidentified remains at other locations over the next few months. “We will exhume remains of victims and DNA samples to bring these unidentified people back to their families,” Schneider said. 

Krebs urged relatives of missing persons to visit the agency with which they may have filed reports in the past. 

“Or if they never reported it, they definitely need to do that now,” she said.

Individuals can contact the state police’s missing persons unit via email at msp-missingpersons@michigan.gov.

ghunter@detroitnews.com

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