Elizabethton, TN

Human Remains Discovered in Remote Area of Carter County

John M. Dabbs


(photo by Carter County Sheriff's Office -CCS)

Elizabethton, Tennessee - Officials with the Carter County Sheriff’s Office said an investigation is underway after human remains were discovered Wednesday.

According to Sheriff Dexter Lunceford, the remains were discovered in a wooded area near Southside Road around 3 p.m. on March 3rd, 2021. The road runs between Watauga Avenue and Gap Creek Road.

Officials transported the remains to the Quillen College of Medicine for identification and an autopsy. The incident is currently under investigation.

Frequent event

This is has become a more frequent event in the rural county in the mountains of Northeast Tennessee. The range of findings includes natural causes, suicide, homicides, and unexplained deaths.

The Carter County Sheriff's Office and Sheriff Dexter Lunceford, work closely with the Carter County Emergency & Rescue Squad, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and other agencies. Their close ties allow them to process scenes without disturbing potential evidence. Such evidence or clues are often instrumental to determine the cause of death or the identity of the deceased.

Special equipment

The Carter County Emergency & Rescue Squad operates several specialty vehicles which are used to locate people lost or reported missing. These include specialty off-road vehicles, boats, and an unwater side-scan sonar array. The agency has been called on to support state and local searches in many bodies of water in the Eastern Grand Division of Tennessee.


(Photo by Carter County Emergency & Rescue Squad)

Specially trained rescue and EMS personnel are frequently training and caring for the equipment purchased with both local and grant funds. Recently the agency has received a surplus HMMWV "Humvee" and is readying it for service. The agency maintains nearly as many specialty and support vehicles and it does ambulances to support its primary mission - emergency care and transportation of the sick and injured.


Both law enforcement and emergency rescue personnel receive training in both emergency medical care and search operations. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency sponsors courses on managing search operations and conducting search operations. Many local responders are experts and teach the course for the state agency.

The county works closely with state agencies operating within the county. Both the Department of Forestry and Wildlife Resources Agency are often called upon to assist with search operations for lost and missing persons in the mountains and waters of the county.

Quincy, ME

Jack Klugman played a devoted M.D. and Medical Examiner... we have the real deal in our own backyard.

While our region doesn't have the expertise and budget of the L.A. Coroner's Office or Hollywood, the William L. Jenkins Forensic Center at ETSU conducts the majority of all advanced death investigations in the area. It is also accredited by the National Association of Medical Examiners.

The Forensic Center investigates in cooperation with, yet independent from, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors in the region. Its mission is to provide impartial and professional death investigations. This requires, them to document the circumstances, evidence, and contributing factors associated with all cases under the Medical Examiner's jurisdiction. 

Medical examiners are dedicated to the interest of public health and public safety of both the public and citizens of their jurisdiction. 


The physicians at the forensic center are board-certified forensic pathologists who perform autopsies. They provide expert court testimony (criminal and civil), and medical and resident education. Additionally, they are responsible for the continuing education of local death investigators (sometimes known as coroners) and local law enforcement.  Their investigations advance public health by identifying bioterrorism, infections, and emerging drug trends.


Just as the fictitious Dr. Quincy, M.E., had "Sam", the forensic pathologists are assisted by a team of dedicated technicians. Under the direct supervision of forensic pathologists, these highly skilled technicians provide assistance in all aspects of morgue operations. These include preparing bodies for autopsy, photography, radiology, evisceration, and the procedures which be followed to release bodies. 

Director of Operations

The director of operations manages the investigative and administrative staff of the center. They are also responsible for all administrative duties, such as maintaining accreditation and securing operational funds.


The forensic center has five registered (certified) "medicolegal" death investigators. The investigations team receives the initial notifications from area law enforcement and other agencies. They gather information to see whether the case will fall within the jurisdiction of the medical examiner.

Investigators with the forensic center respond to death scenes and work alongside local investigative agencies. Here they will photograph the scene and body, and conduct the preliminary body examination. Where circumstances permit, they interview family, friends, and witnesses to obtain facts.

Other duties include:

  • Collecting medical records and investigative reports
  • Assisting the pathologist in the identification of the deceased
  • Locating the decedent's next of kin (or legal equivalent)
  • Responding to inquiries from family members, law enforcement, and funeral homes
  • Facilitating tissue and organ donation (where applicable)
  • Review death certificates for approval of cremation

It takes a village

Many people are not aware of the multiple agencies and personnel involved, once human remains are discovered. Even when they are easily accessed by local authorities, the care which must be exercised in both the recovery and transportation of the body is important.

Preservation of evidence is not just important to identify the person. Clues may be found on, in, or around the body or remains. These can be used to discern what happened to the person, and other people who may have been involved.


(Photo by John Dabbs)

The team of experts involved includes first responders (fire, police, EMS, rescue), other investigators (wildlife, environmental, medical), and criminal investigators (local, county, state, or federal law enforcement). These experts come from all walks of life and look at each body, scene, and jurisdiction from a unique perspective. Working together, they help us find closure for families and search for justice where warranted.

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An outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and adventure. John is a professional consultant and photojournalist.

Bristol, TN

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