Twenty-seven years ago, a 40-year-old named Luis Gonzales, was struck and killed by a train near Central Avenue.
The man had no identification except for a workplace time card that contained his name and the wrong date of birth, which pegged him as a 53-year-old.
Another Luis Gonzales with that birthdate was in police files, but the dead man's fingerprints didn't match. They weren't the same person. The victim never was positively identified.
Gonzales never was forgotten, and detectives from the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Phoenix Police Department, and Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner finally figured out this year who he was.
Now, they're hoping to find his next of kin to give them closure.
Gonzales had been in some trouble with the law before, and his fingerprints also were in police records.
Phoenix police took a look at the case last year as part of their ongoing efforts, with other agencies, to solve old cases using new methods and technology. Those efforts have paid off in recent years with numerous crime suspects finally being brought to justice. Police announced one such case last week, in which Steven Michael Humelhans, 41, of Illinois was arrested for killing of a 25-year-old Phoenix Domino's Pizza employee in 1988.
New Times covered another of Phoenix's solved cold cases in 2010, which resulted in the arrest of Richard Rodgers. The article explored the needs of the victim's family for closure and the challenges of prosecuting and jailing an 81-year-old suspect with medical issues.
The Gonzales case shows that cold-case effort isn't just about busting fugitives.
Police looking into the old files pulled several sets of fingerprints on file from other men with the same name who had been arrested back then for various crimes. Jennifer Valdez, a DPS fingerprint technician, found one match that looked promising, but authorities couldn't be sure it was the Gonzales.
So, in February 2011, the train victim's body was exhumed. DNA samples and dental records were obtained and compared with the man whose fingerprints resembled those on file. A positive match was made.
Family members who wonder why they haven't heard from Gonzales since 1985 may not be thrilled to find out he's long been deceased. But it seems safe to assume they'll be relieved just to know what happened.