Crimetracker: Shot "execution-style" 30 years ago, body finally identified

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- A huge development in a Knox County cold case. Investigators identified a John Doe who was killed 32 years ago. His name is Howard Hardin, Junior. After 30 years, the family saw his picture and called detectives and they are excited to announce they made the match.

For years, a Knoxville man didn't have a name, but after sketches and clay reconstructions, he's been identified. Knox County Sheriff's Officer Amy Dobbs says, "Based off the age regression picture, they called and said I think that's our family member."

The family thought he had left to start a new life somewhere. After DNA tests came back positive, they knew it was Howard. Officer Dobbs says, "I'm just excited! My heart goes out to the family. "

Now the family waits as an active homicide investigation digs into who killed Hardin. He disappeared in January 1981. His girlfriend told police she returned to their Linden Avenue home and he was gone. Investigators say the body was found in Mascot off Arnold Lane. He was shot in the back of the head execution style."

A property owner found the skeletal remains a year later in his backyard. Now police want your help with any clues you may have. Officer Dobbs reassures everyone, "We're wroking on it. Obviously the case does have some age to it, but that doesn't matter. We still have clothing from the day he was gone."

The girlfriend and family members are still alive. Dobbs will question everyone associated with the case to find Hardin's killer.

Officer Dobbs wants anyone who lives in the arnold lane area to call if they know anything. We talked to people in that area. They said they remember when their neighbor found the body, but they thought it was someone out of state. They were surprised to learn the man was from Knoxville.

Now after this identification, there are only two more Jane Doe cases in Knox County to solve.

Howard Hardin (Courtesy: Knox Co. Sheriff's Office)
Howard Hardin (Courtesy: Knox Co. Sheriff's Office)
Clay facial reconstruction of the victim at the time of death. (Courtesy: Knox Co. Sheriff's Office)

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