Remains found in Covington 30 years ago positively identified as missing 17-year-old

Published: Oct. 5, 2016 at 11:40 AM EDT
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The only picture of middle child Michael Perdue is singed around the edges, saved from a fire that killed another brother.

"[He was] a handsome man," said Wally Perdue.

Perdue and sister Sandra Miller scraped money together to make the long drive down from Detroit to be reunited with Michael, whom they last saw when he was 17. Back then he was something of a drifter, looking for a place to belong. For thirty years, a mystery surrounded Alleghany County. In 1986, near train tracks, human bones were found and without DNA testing, it wasn't known who it was. And for the Perdues, that question demanded an answer. Now they have it.

Wally's DNA was the link to the remains found. A chronic drug user, he says learning it was Michael saved him.

"And I do believe that was Michael from heaven, kicking my butt and getting me to take care of this business," he said.

Alleghany County Sheriff Kevin Hall was a cub officer in 1986, only on the job for a few weeks.

"I didn't know what I was doing really," he quipped.

Wednesday, he went to the spot where he was dispatched on March 2nd and says all these years later this case stuck with him.

"What if it was my brother?" he said. "I didn't know where my brother was and not having his remains of his body."

Confronted with the finality of death, Michael's family is thankful.

"It's like the end of a nightmare for me," said Miller.

"I see God's work," said Perdue. "We're going to put him with our brother James in Detroit, Michigan where he needs to be. Finally, so his soul can rest."

It's still uncertain exactly how Perdue died. The medical examiner can't say for sure. But Hall says the bones didn't indicate the death was suspicious.