Man found dead in Oneida County field in 1980 identified as missing Chicago resident

By Jalen Maki

Tomahawk Leader Editor

ONEIDA COUNTY – The identity of a man found dead in Oneida County more than four decades ago has been discovered.

A Friday, Dec. 15 release from Oneida, Forest and Vilas County Medical Examiner Crystal L. Schaub said a deceased man discovered in a field in the Town of Pine Lake on March 19, 1980 has been identified as Norman Grasser of Chicago, Ill.

Grasser. Photo courtesy of

According to the release, the Oneida County Medical Examiner’s Office and the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call and located the man, with the assistance of witnesses who initially discovered the body in the snow.

The body was found approximately 46 yards off of State Hwy. 17 on private property, and there was no identification on the body, the release said.

A forensic autopsy performed at the University of Wisconsin determined that the man had died from cold exposure due to hypothermia.

 The man was described as a white male between the ages of 25 and 45, 6’ 1/2” tall, weighing 170 pounds with brown hair. The man’s clothing and other belongings were collected by the Sheriff’s Office to assist in identification.

The release said the unidentified man’s fingerprints were sent to the State Crime Laboratory and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for possible identification, with negative matches.

“Over time, this case continued to be investigated through missing persons report follow-ups and press releases,” the release stated.

In 2019, the unidentified man was entered into NamUs, a national database for missing and unidentified and unclaimed person cases across the United States.

“Multiple possible matches were generated and followed up on, again with negative matches,” the release said.

In April 2021, the Medical Examiner’s Office exhumed the body, referred to as “John Doe 1980.” The body was taken to the Fond du Lac Medical Examiner’s Office to be processed for DNA collection.

The collected items were then sent to the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Va., for DNA profiling.

In Jan. 2023, the Sheriff’s Office enlisted the assistance of Ramapo College of New Jersey Investigative Genetic Genealogy Center to “perform advanced forensic DNA testing of John Doe 1980 and a genealogy search.”

“As a result of the work performed by students in the Ramapo College IGG Certificate Program, a new investigative lead was developed, resulting in Mr. Grasser’s identification,” the release said.

Subsequent investigation revealed that Grasser had been reported missing by family members in Cook County, Ill., in Jan. 1980.

The release did not say why Grasser was in Oneida County.

According to Ramapo College of New Jersey, Grasser’s brother “had been searching for him for over 40 years” and created a page dedicated to Grasser.

The FindAGrave page said Grasser was born on March 20, 1948 in Chicago and was 31 years old when he was reported missing.

A memorial tombstone for Grasser was placed in All Saints Catholic Cemetery and Mausoleum in Des Plaines, Ill., in Aug. 2016, according to the page.

“The Grasser family is grateful to everybody involved for ending their 43-year nightmare,” the release stated. “During this time, the Grasser family requests privacy so they can grieve and process this information.”

Agencies and organizations assisting in the case included the Oneida, Vilas, Forest and Waupaca County Sheriff’s Offices; the Eagle River, Woodruff and Rhinelander Police Departments; the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office; the City of Rhinelander Parks Department; Oneida County Buildings and Grounds; the Ramapo College of New Jersey Investigative Genetic Genealogy Center; Intermountain Forensics; WJFW Newswatch 12; FBI; the Wisconsin State Crime Lab; the University of Wisconsin Pathology Department; the Fond du Lac Medical Examiner’s Office; NamUs-National Missing and Unidentified Persons System; and Father Chris Kemp of Nativity of Our Lord Church.

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