The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department announced last June that they were working to solve a cold case from December 18th, 1971.
Sheriff Rick Meyer assigned the cold case to Lieutenant Adam Nicholson and gave him the go ahead to purse a renewed investigation.
The case involved a mysterious cabin fire that occurred on December 18th, 1971, in Jackson County, IN, about 1.5 miles south of Brownstown on State Road 135. The cabin was a 9′ x 15′ structure built from railroad ties and used as a hangout and camping site for teens.
According to the original State Police reports, two teens, Stanley R. Robison, 17, and Jerry Autry, 19, were believed to have perished in the fire.
A third teen, Michael W. Sewell, 16, was camping with Robison and Autry the night of the fire, but the original reports only indicated the remains of two (2) individuals were found. In addition, the reports describe the bodies as being badly burned and close to incineration.
The only means of identification for Robison and Autry were done by class rings located at the scene.
Later in the day, approximately two (2) hours after investigators left the scene of the cabin, Sewell was reported missing by his family and has not been seen or heard of since.
“Several rumors and questions have been raised over the years adding to the mystery of the events of that evening,” said Nicholson. “After taking a deep look at everything and processing all the old reports and evidence, it seemed logical to think Sewell also perished in the fire.” “Other than the opinions of the original investigator there was no proof Sewell wasn’t in the fire, and our focus is to prove he was or wasn’t.” “It was decided to exhume the remains of Mr. Autry and Mr. Robison to check for any additional evidence of a third person.” “Sewell was only 16 years old and it’s difficult to imagine he would still be missing 52 years later, if he had simply run away.”
Lt. Nicholson sought the advice and assistance of Dr. Krista Latham with the University of Indianapolis. Dr. Latham, a professor of Biology and Anthropology and Board-Certified Forensic Anthropologist, agreed to help with further investigation into the case. Dr. Latham and a team of Anthropologists assisted with the exhumation of Robison and Autry on June 21st, 2022, at Fairview Cemetery in Brownstown. After the exhumation Dr. Latham took possession of the remains and transported them to the University of Indianapolis Human Identification Center for analysis. The families of the deceased were notified beforehand and gave consent for the exhumation. The families also provided their DNA so it could be compared with the remains exhumed.
Dr. Latham completed her analysis of the remains on November 22nd, 2022. Dr. Latham’s report on the findings confirmed a minimum of three (3) individuals within the two (2) caskets that were exhumed.
She came to this conclusion by identifying triplicate (3) copies of several bones.
This is consistent with three (3) individuals being represented in the two (2) caskets. Dr. Latham noted there was no trauma observed that couldn’t be attributed to the fire.
Dr. Latham selected the least burnt bones as candidates for possible DNA extraction to compare with the DNA of the families. The selected bones were then submitted to the Indiana State Police Lab for DNA testing.
The Indiana State Police Lab attempted DNA analysis on several bones but only one was in good enough condition to produce results. On June 12th, 2023, the State Police Lab completed analysis on DNA extracted from the bone.
The result identifies one of the decedents as Stanley Robison.
The lab will continue to look for possibilities of extracting more DNA with future technology. Nicholson said, “I’m pleased and very thankful for the help that Dr. Latham, the University of Indianapolis, and the Indiana State Police Lab provided.”
“The thorough analysis they provided has answered some questions for the families involved, which was well deserved and long overdue.” Sheriff Rick Meyer said, “I’m glad we can finally give some closure to the families involved. I commend Lt. Nicholson and all the assisting agencies who helped find answers in this 52-year-old case.”
Assisting with the investigation: Jackson County Coroner Office, FBI, University of Indianapolis, and Indiana State Police Lab.