‘Known Only to God'

The memorial at the Tom Lilly Cemetery near Flat Top bears the words ‘Known Only to God,’ ‘Unknown Male’ along with the date of his death – July 23, 1972 –  and his probable age, which was between 19 and 21 years old. Today people are still attempting to identify this young man and bring closure to his family, Vernon L. Simmons, a retired Norfolk Police Department captain said.

GHENT — Almost 50 years ago, a young pedestrian hiking along the U.S. 19-21 bypass near Beckley was killed when a drunk driver struck him, but today he remains unidentified. Aside from old newspaper stories, the only reminder of his existence is a gravestone in a Flat Top cemetery.

The memorial at the Tom Lilly Cemetery near Flat Top bears the words “Known Only to God,” “Unknown Male” along with the date of his death – July 23, 1972 –  and his probable age, which was between 19 and 21 years old. Today people are still attempting to identify this young man and bring closure to his family, Vernon L. Simmons, a retired Norfolk Police Department captain said.

The accident which claimed the life of “John Doe” occurred on the U.S. 19-21 bypass near Beckley, according to Daily Telegraph reports from that year. Before the pedestrian accident, the man had caught a ride with a passing motorist who later told the West Virginia State Police about how the man said that he was returning to the Bluefield area from Chicago, and that the reason behind his trip was to obtain a birth certificate. According to this witness, the man walked about a half a mile before he was hit by another driver and killed instantly.

In 1972, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph published stories that offer details about this unknown man. The West Virginia State Police described him as a white American male, believed to be between 18 and 20 years old. He was 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighed between 160 and 165 pounds. His hair was described as “reddish brown,” Simmons said. His only distinguishing feature was a laceration on his left foot which was described as being similar to a glass cut: it was healed and showed no sign of sutures. The young man’s photograph was once available, but finding it after almost 50 years would be difficult.

Back in August 1972, investigators said the man’s clothes didn’t have any identification except for a pair of jungle boots with the name “John Durfee” stenciled on them. John Durfee was later located; he had sold the boots to a Chicago pawn shop. Simmons said his research has indicated that the unknown man could have been a runaway youth from the Chicago area.

People who believe that they could have information relating to the case can contact Simmons at 757-436-0219 or verns1936@verizon.net.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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