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January 30, 2023

Human skull found in 1986 identified as missing Trenton man, authorities say

Richard Thomas Alt's remains were uncovered on the banks of the Delaware River in Morrisville, Bucks County a year after his disappearance

Investigations Missing People
Richard Thomas Alt Provided Image/Bucks County District Attorney's Office

Richard Thomas Alt, of Trenton, was 31 years old when he went missing. In 1986, a Bucks County fisherman found a skull on the banks of the Delaware River in Morrisville, which was identified as Alt's on Monday due to a DNA match from his daughter.

Nearly 37 years after a Bucks County fisherman found a human skull on the banks of the Delaware River in Morrisville, detectives have matched it to a Trenton man who has been missing since early 1985, Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub said on Monday. 

Richard Thomas Alt, 31, was last seen by his parents on Christmas Eve in 1984 before he was reported missing to the Trenton Police Department in early 1985. At the time of his disappearance, he and his girlfriend were suspected homicide victims, authorities said. Her body was found in the Delaware River near Trenton in April 1985. The homicides remain unsolved, according to the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office.

In June 1986 — more than a year after his disappearance — the fisherman uncovered the skull and brought it to the Buckingham Township Police Department, where it remained until 2019. Bucks County Detectives took the skull during a homicide investigation, later returning it to the Bucks County Coroner's Office. In late 2019, it was entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System database. 

"I can't even imagine wondering and worrying about a lost family member for even a day, let alone for 37 years," Weintraub said in a release. "That wait is now over for Mr. Alt's family. I'm just glad that we could give them some peace of mind with this identification, and the eventual return of his remains to his family." 

The skull was identified using forensic-grade genome sequencing from Othram, a Texas-based DNA laboratory which conducted forensic testing. Earlier this year, officials from Othram contacted Bucks County Detectives to inform them of a possible match to the skull on a public genealogy database where users can upload their DNA profile. 

Building on the profile of a 49-year-old Florida woman, Othram suggested the skull belonged to Alt. Officials in Bucks County spoke to the woman on Jan. 4, who told them that she was 11 years old when her father, Richard Thomas Alt, went missing in Trenton. She said that her father's girlfriend was murdered in 1985 and her father had not been seen since then. 

After obtaining her DNA, Othram confirmed the parent-child relationship between her and Alt, confirming the skull's identification. 

"This would not have been possible but for the technical expertise that Othram provided to us, for free," Weintraub said in the release. "I hope that this powerful combination of technology and genealogy becomes the template for solving cold and current cases now and in the future." 

The Bucks County District Attorney's Office considers the investigation now closed due to lack of evidence that the alleged murders were committed in Bucks County. The skull will be returned to Alt's living family members at a later date, but further information was not made public.