Human remains found near Stafford field identified 32 years later

Law enforcement have shed light on human remains found in an open field near Stafford, Virginia, more than three decades ago.

On Sept. 28, 1990, a Stafford property owner working a field discovered a human skull under a fence alongside Joshua Road, near the intersection with Mountain View Road. No other remains were found, and investigators determined the skull had been there for an extended period, kicking off a 32-year forensic and genealogical search to figure out what happened.

On Friday, the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office announced a finding long in the making: The skull was that of Timothy Alan Mangum — a Norfolk-area resident last confirmed alive between 1983 and 1984, and who likely died sometime later of an unknown cause.

Public and private labs analyzed the remains for years in an attempt to extract DNA and establish a family lineage. Scientists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History concluded that it had belonged to a Caucasian male dead for between one and three years before the skull’s discovery, at which point the victim would have been aged 15 to 18.

“A cause of death could not be determined by the (Office of the Chief Medical Examiner), but due to the estimated age of the victim and the location where the skull was located, a violent or unnatural manner of death was strongly suspected by the OCME,” the sheriff’s office said in a news release. “The manner of death was ruled ‘undetermined.'”

In late 2021, a Texas-based company provided Stafford County law enforcement with a name and residence of the victim’s probable father and brother, who still resided near Norfolk.

It was from them that detectives first learned of Mangum as the possible victim. His family reported having lost contact with him for several years before the skull was located in 1990.

DNA samples collected from the father and brother later verified Mangum as the deceased.

Detectives subsequently gathered that Mangum had attended Norfolk’s Lake Taylor High School during the April 1983 school year, after having withdrawn from Chesapeake public schools that January. He briefly moved to Tennessee with his mother but returned to Virginia, placing at James Barry Robinson Institute in Norfolk and attending Lake Taylor High for his sophomore year.

After that point, not much is known about the circumstances surrounding Mangum’s disappearance or how he ended up in Stafford County years later.

Anyone with information concerning Mangum, including those who knew him or attended school with him, are asked to contact Detective Dave Wood by calling 540-658-4727 or emailing dwood@staffordcountyva.gov.

Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital reporter and editor in June 2018. He is a writer and photojournalist focusing on politics, political activism and national affairs, with recent multimedia contributions to Reuters, MSNBC and PBS.

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