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Skeleton in bank chimney is of man missing since 1984, police say

By Brad Lendon, CNN
  • Joseph W. Schexnider vanished at age 22, when he was facing a stolen vehicle charge
  • The remains were discovered in May by workers doing renovation on the bank building
  • The chimney was too small at the bottom for him to gain entry into the building, police say

(CNN) -- Skeletal remains found in the chimney of an Abbeville, Louisiana, bank two months ago have been identified as those of a local man who hadn't been seen in 27 years.

The remains are those of Joseph W. Schexnider, who vanished at age 22 in January 1984, Abbeville police Lt. David Hardy told CNN. Schexnider's disappearance was noted after he failed to show up for a court hearing on a charge of possession of a stolen vehicle. When officers showed up at his home to take him in to custody, Schexnider's mother said he had fled to avoid arrest.

The remains were discovered in May when construction workers were doing renovations on the main branch of the Bank of Abbeville, a historic building that sits on the main square in the southwestern Louisiana town of 25,000 people. Tests done at a Louisiana State University forensics lab established the remains were those of Schexnider.

The cause of death was likely dehydration and starvation, Hardy said. Foul play was not suspected and the case is closed, he said.

But why Schexnider was in the chimney remains a bit of a mystery.

Hardy told reporters that Schexnider had gloves and a cigarette lighter on him, but no bag or anything to indicate he planned to carry loot from the bank.

Even if Schexnider had planned a burglary, the chimney would not have gotten him into the bank. Hardy said the fireplace that the chimney vented had no large opening at the bottom from which he could have emerged.

How could the remains have gone unnoticed for 27 years?

One, Schexnider had a history of running away, once even joining a traveling circus, Hardy said, so even his family was not actively looking for him.

Two, the chimney opens on to the second floor of the red-brick bank building in Abbeville, Hardy said, and for decades the second floor had been used mainly for storage.

Schexnider's family is not commenting on the case, Hardy said