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Skeletal remains found in a garbage bag nearly 40 years ago in Twinsburg, Ohio have been identified as a former guitarist and songwriter for the R&B group the O’Jays.
The death of Frank “Frankie” Little has been ruled a homicide, but who killed him is unknown.
Authorities identified Little, who was born in Cleveland in 1943, with genealogical research from the DNA Doe Project. In October, the group provided names of potential living relatives who gave authorities Little’s name.
A close relative then provided a DNA sample, which was analyzed by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation Lab. His identity was then confirmed by Dr. Lisa Kohler of the Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office, according to a press release from the Twinsburg Police Department.
Margaret O’Sullivan, a cousin from Cleveland, told WEWS that authorities reached out to her.
"I said yes. I have a cousin name Frankie Little who is missing," O'Sullivan said. "We don't know what happened to him. We always wondered what happened, so we don't know what happened to Frankie at all."
The station said that a brother in Georgia provided a DNA sample. Kohler said it was 398,000,000 times more likely that the two men were brothers.
“It was clear that there was a match here, that we had finally been able to put a name to those remains,” Kohler told WEWS. “I feel comfortable saying he died from unknown injuries and that this is a homicide.”
Little left the group before they reached stardom in the 1970s releasing a string of hits which included “Love Train” “For the Love of Money,” “Back Stabbers” and “Use To Be My Girl.” The group was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.
Eddie Levert, lead singer of the group, told WEWS that Little was sentimental, loving, and passionate. He said Little moved with the band to the West Coast in the 1960s but decided to return home.
"He could have been a great entity in the music business, but he was in love and love drove him back to Cleveland," Levert said.
They didn’t stay in touch and Levert had no idea what became of Little.
"I never would have thought this would happen to him. I don't know why anyone would do him like that," Levert said.
Little served two years in the Army including a stint in Vietnam, police said.
Workers at a now closed machine shop stumbled upon the skull in 1982 while dumping shavings in the woods and called police. Authorities then discovered a garbage bag with more human remains, according to the Akron Beacon Journal.
The remains provided no clues that would help police with an identification. Investigators determined that it was an African-American male between the ages of 20 to 35, approximately 5’6’’ tall who may have had adolescent kyphosis, a curvature of the spine.
“There wasn’t even clothing – just bones in a garbage bag,” Twinsburg Detective Eric Hendershott told the Akron Beacon Journal.
Back then investigators reached out to the public for information, but the tips provided led nowhere and the case languished for decades, the newspaper reported.
The Akron Beacon Journal reported that Sgt. Greg Feketik reopened the case in 2009 believing that DNA could be used to identify the victim.
Police used the Combined DNA Index System and the FBI’s DNA database but were unable to make an identification, according to the newspaper.
In 2016, a forensic artist with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation made a clay model of the skull.
Henershott reached out to the Doe Project in 2019 because Joseph DeAngelo, the Golden State Killer was identified with DNA and genealogical databases, according to the newspaper.
Elias Chan, a volunteer with the project told WEWS that the case was “far from a slam dunk.” She worked on it for more than two years before they were able to provide solid leads to the police.
“The goal is to kind of hang in there, commit to it, keep checking those matches, keep going down the lines and keep thinking innovatively,” she said.
Now police are focusing on finding Little’s killer.
“Part of the mystery is over with, but we have no idea how he got there, how he disappeared or where he lived toward the end of his life,” Hendershott told the Akron Beacon Journal.
Little had a daughter who died in 2012 and a son who still may be living in the Cleveland area, police said.
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