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Jackson Co. makes surprising discovery in cold case investigation

The Jackson County Sheriff's Department logo (Provided Photo/Jackson County Sheriff's Office)

BROWNSTOWN, Ind. (WISH) — A Jackson County case gone cold for 52 years took is taking a surprising turn.

In June 2022, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department set out to solve the case of a mysterious 1971 cabin fire and a missing teenager.

According to the department, on Dec. 18, 1971, a cabin fire broke out 1.5 miles south of Brownstown and State Road 135. The cabin was built of railroad ties and used as a camping site for teenagers.

According to the original police report, 17-year-old Stanley Robison and 19-year-old Jerry Autry died in the fire.

A third teen, 16-year-old Michael Sewell, was camping with Robison and Autry on the night of the fire. The police report said only the remains of Robison and Autry were found.

Robison and Autry were identified solely by their class rings. Later that day, investigators left the scene and Sewell was reported missing by his family.

He had “not been seen or heard of since,” the department said in a Friday press release.

“After taking a deep look at everything and processing all the old reports and evidence, it seemed logical to think Sewell also perished in the fire,” Lt. Adam Nicholson from the sheriff’s department said. “Other than the opinions of the original investigator there was no proof Sewell wasn’t in the fire, and our focus is to prove he was or wasn’t.”

The department decided to exhume Autry and Robison’s remains.

Krista Latham, a professor of biology and anthropology at the University of Indianapolis and board certified forensic anthropologist, agreed to help with the investigation.

Latham and a team of anthropologists exhumed the remains in June 2022 after their families consented. The families provided DNA to compare with the remains.

In November 2022, Latham finished analyzing the remains.

She found that three people were buried in the two caskets. DNA was then sent to the Indiana State Police Lab for DNA testing.

The lab was only able to accurately identify Robison’s remains, but will continue looking for ways to identify the other two bodies.

“I’m glad we can finally give some closure to the families involved. I commend Lt. Nicholson and all the assisting agencies who helped find answers in this 52-year-old case,” Jackson County Sheriff Rick Meyer said.