“Who is John Doe?” For 26 years, the Regina Police Service and the Saskatchewan Coroners Service labored over that question. An unidentified, deceased young man: who could he be? In 2021, persistence, aided by advancements in science and technology, found the answer.
This mystery began on Friday, July 28th, 1995, at about 3:40 p.m., when police were dispatched to the Canadian Pacific Railway crossing at 13th Avenue and Courtney Street for a report of a fatality. Police interviewed two CP rail employees who had just witnessed a young man come from the ditch on the south side of the tracks and position himself in the path of an eastbound, four-locomotive train hauling 104 boxcars. The crew was unable to stop the train, which was traveling approximately 65-70 kilometers per hour as it approached the crossing. The railway traffic control arm was down and the red warning lights were functioning. The victim was killed instantly by the impact. The coroner/police investigation pointed to suicide as the cause of death, but investigators now faced a new challenge: who was this man?
For almost three decades, a series of Regina Police Service investigators worked in collaboration with the original coroner, Jerry Bell, to answer that question. The joint investigation followed hundreds of avenues and exhausted many options. In August of 2021, the unrelenting efforts came to fruition.
The breakthrough came when John Doe’s DNA was submitted to US-based lab Othram Inc. As a result of new genealogic research and technology, the company was able to confirm a positive identify of John Doe.
He was learned to be: Michael KIROV of Winnipeg, MB, born Michael LEWIS. Michael was 30 years old when he died in Regina.
“Michael was a sweet, shy, quiet boy with big, blue eyes. In 1991, Michael was devastated with the sudden passing of his mom. Shortly thereafter, Michael left Winnipeg with hopes of finding himself,” members of Michael’s family said in a statement. “We would like to express our heartfelt thanks and appreciation to all involved and we pray every one finds peace and closure knowing that Michael was very much loved and has been reunited with his family.”
Jerry Bell was the Coroner who responded to the railroad tracks on July 28th, 1995.
“My goal was to always put a name to John Doe,” said Bell. “Many police officers – every officer I worked with – was amazing in that they had the same compassion to want to find the answer. And to always hopefully bring John Doe to his family. Or his family to him. And so I am very privileged to be sitting here with John Doe’s family. And that is Michael.”
Prior to the August 2021 identity confirmation, RPS and the Coroners Service explored many investigative avenues including the collection of numerous witness statements and interviews, fingerprints, scene photographs, x-rays and dental charts. As Michael wore a distinctive shirt (a white t-shirt with ‘Boca Authentic’ on the front), efforts were even made to locate the maker and purchase point of the shirt. In his pocket, he was carrying a silver brooch, shaped like a rose, which also was a focus of much investigation. RPS consulted with police services around North America to share missing persons reports, files, investigations and fingerprint records – all in hopes of identifying John Doe. Shortly after his death, a composite drawing of John Doe was created by Gail Dusterbeck of the Regina Leader Post and it was released to the media. Unfortunately, the tips that resulted did not help to advance the investigation.
In September of 1996, a then-local resident in Regina, Barbra Beck, got word that John Doe had been buried with nobody claiming his body. She felt compelled to honour him and as a result, purchased a headstone for his grave. The verse on the headstone at Regina’s Riverside Cemetery reads, John Doe – “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened – Matt. 11:28”.
In coming months, the name Michael Kirov will be added to the headstone – finally identifying the man who was laid to rest without a name.
“We would not be here without a combination of skill, direction, persistence and hope. And hope is a message to all families seeking answers: we won’t give up,” says Regina Police Service Chief Evan Bray.