Man known for 23 years as Conception Bay John Doe identified as Cuban in Canada with a tourist visa

WARNING: This story contains graphic details that some readers may find disturbing.

The man who became known as Conception Bay John Doe after his severed head was found buried in a landfill 23 years ago has been identified by the Royal Newfoundland Police Force as a Cuban who arrived in Canada on a tourist visa. The fifth state has learned.

Temístocle Casas was identified through genetic genealogy that led investigators to his first cousin, police said.

Const. of the Republican National Committee. Greg Davis said he will never forget the moment he learned Casas’ name and saw his photo for the first time.

“Surreal, I guess, would be the word to use. I couldn’t believe it had happened,” Davis said. “I always knew it was possible, but I didn’t know if we were going to get there… my head was spinning, it was a crazy moment.”

Two men searching for saplings discovered Casas’ remains in a Billy Boot shopping bag at a landfill in Conception Bay, near St. John’s, in 2001.

Since then he was known as John Doe of Conception Bay.

After the remains were discovered, police said the victim likely lived in Quebec or Ontario or possibly in the northeastern United States. Through isotope analysis and carbon dating, it was established that he was probably born in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

A facial reconstruction shows John Doe of Conception Bay, an unknown homicide victim whose severed head was discovered in Conception Bay, NL, in 2001.
A facial reconstruction shows John Doe of Conception Bay, a homicide victim whose severed head was discovered 23 years ago. He has now been identified as Casas. (Presented by the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary)

However, the RNC has now said The fifth state They do not believe Casas has ever lived in the United States. They said he arrived in Montreal on a tourist visa in 1992.

It is not known how Casas arrived in Terranova.

“Through our investigation, we believe that Mr. Casas was murdered in 1997 or 1998,” Davis said. “We are not releasing any further details at this time as this is an active homicide investigation.”

The fifth state he was unable to find any records indicating that Casas became a Canadian citizen.

Three years ago, the RNC began using genetic genealogy (when DNA is used to conduct research on family trees) to try to identify the man. But any matches made to relatives were too distant to make an identification, according to the RNC.

Then, in February 2024, a man from the US uploaded his DNA. He turned out to be Casas’ first cousin.

Dead ends in research

In 2001, when the RNC held a press conference about the case, they said they believed the man was murdered sometime between 1994 and 1997, but did not reveal the cause of death, saying it would compromise their investigation. They did confirm that he was a victim of homicide.

Over the past two decades, the Republican National Committee has pursued several avenues to try to open the case. They held press conferences, used isotope analysis, submitted the unknown man’s DNA to the National DNA Data Bank for the Missing and Unidentified, and submitted his dental records to U.S. authorities.

Everything was in vain.

Two men look at a human skull on a table.
The lead investigator on the RNC case, Const. Greg Davis, left, shows Bob McKeown of The Fifth Estate a replica of the then-unknown victim’s skull in 2021. The victim has now been identified as Casas. (John Badcock/CBC)

In 2001, the RNC concluded that the skull, which had shoulder-length curly black hair, belonged to a man between 20 and 40 years old.

It was not possible to determine other physical traits such as height because the rest of the man’s remains have never been found.

In 2021, the RNC decided to dedicate itself to genetic genealogy. It has become a popular tool for law enforcement agencies to try to identify John and Jane Does, but it only works if a close relative of the deceased person enters their DNA into a public family tree database.

Identification becomes more difficult if the unknown person comes from an ethnic community that does not typically engage in family tree research. That was the challenge in this case, according to police.

Casas’ DNA profile was uploaded to GEDmatch, a public database of profiles from different family tree databases, in February 2022. His identity was confirmed in April 2024 after a DNA match with a member of the family.

“Personally, I’m relieved that we’re at this point. I never knew we’d get to the point where we’d have an identity. I knew the technology was there to identify it, but I didn’t know if it would work.” because of Cuban ancestry,” Davis said.

The RNC's lead investigator on the case, Const.  Greg Davis
The lead investigator on the RNC case, Const. Greg Davis has appealed to anyone who has any knowledge of this to come forward. (John Badcock/CBC)

Casas arrived in Canada from Cuba on April 1, 1992. The RNC has been unable to find any record of Casas traveling to Newfoundland and Labrador.

“I beg anyone reading this story, if you know any information, please contact us,” Davis said.

“We’re back to square one. In a normal (homicide), you know who the victim is from the beginning. We only learned his name 23 years later, so now I feel like in many ways we’re just beginning a homicide investigation, even though that we have put a lot of effort into this file for more than two decades.

If you have any information about this case, please call 416-205-6679 or write to us at [email protected].