Police recovered the body of an unidentified man from the Ohio River near Clarington Monday morning.
It was not immediately clear how the man died; the body will be sent to either Morgantown or Charleston for an autopsy, said West Virginia State Police Sgt. Josh Tomblyn. A young man fishing in the area spotted the body just after 5 a.m. and called the Monroe County Sheriff's Department. They pronounced obvious death and turned the investigation over to the WVSP because West Virginia has jurisdiction over the river.
Tomblyn said the body is that of a white male about five feet, 10 inches tall (this has since been changed, see the fact box on this page). He could not give an estimate of the man's age, except that the deceased appeared to be at least 15 or 16 years old.
"I can't even guesstimate an age," said Wetzel County Medical Examiner Carla McBee who was called to the scene.
She related that his body was very deteriorated and covered in algae.
"I know he has been in the water for a lengthy period of time," she continued. "I know that he had trauma to his face, but it very easily could have been barges."
More recent information from the medical examiner's office puts the height of the body of an unidentified man found in the Ohio River near Clarington Monday morning at five feet, four inches or five feet, five inches - not the five feet, 10 inches initially reported.
While autopsy results are not complete, this is important information, particularly for the family of 32-year-old Earnest Edward Francis of Sistersville who has been missing since May 4, 2011. Francis, listed as five feet, 10 inches tall in his missing person posters, went missing from New Martinsville's Howard Jeffers (Hydro) Drive, beside the Ohio River.
She explained that initially a body will sink in water, then in four to seven days enough methane will build up to cause it to float for three to four days, then sink again. At that point the body would remain submerged until something disturbs it. She noted that barges at PPG were moved around last week, which could have been a factor.
"There is no way at all of knowing who it is," said McBee. She said once the autopsy is complete, then authorities will begin the long search of comparing xrays from this man with people who have been reported missing.
The body was found unclothed, but Tomblyn said that is usually the case when someone has been in the water for several days; it doesn't give any solid clue as to the circumstances surrounding the death. No clothing was found in the immediate area, he noted.
Tomblyn said investigators are comparing what little information they have with missing persons reports in the area and they hope some identifying mark will be revealed when the body is cleaned up.
Locally, many people are wondering if the body found Monday morning could be that of 32-year-old Earnest Edward Francis of Sistersville who was last seen May 4, 2011, at New Martinsville's Howard Jeffers (Hydro) Drive. Francis is listed as five feet, 10 inches tall in his missing person posters. (However the more recent height estimate, see fact box on this page, is about five inches shorter than Francis' reported height.)
Anyone who believes they have information as to the body's identity can call State Police at the Moundsville detachment, 304-843-4100.