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Investigators Track Down Missing Man’s Daughter to Identify His Skull Found in 1986

Richard Thomas Alt in pictures from prosecutors. Authorities say a fisherman found his skull on the banks of the Delaware River. (Images: Bucks County District Attorney's Office)

Richard Thomas Alt in pictures from prosecutors. Authorities say a fisherman found his skull on the banks of the Delaware River. (Images: Bucks County District Attorney’s Office)

Authorities have identified a human skull found on the banks of the Delaware River decades ago: it belonged to Richard Thomas Alt, according to the Bucks County Prosecutor’s Office in Pennsylvania. Now investigators must determine who killed him and his girlfriend Laurie Suydam, 24, who was found dead on the same river up in Trenton, New Jersey.

“I can’t even imagine wondering and worrying about a lost family member for even a day, let alone for 37 years. That wait is now over for Mr. Alt’s family,” Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub said. “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.”

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A fisherman discovered Alt’s skull by the Morrisville Boat Ramp in Bucks County, authorities said. A Buckingham Township resident, he took it to the police there, according to prosecutors.

“Human skull was found along the banks of the Delaware River near Morrisville, PA,” National Missing and Unidentified Persons System wrote of the June 15, 1986 discovery. “The skull was taken to Buckingham Township Police.”

The skull was the only remains located and the listing reads the victim as white, but authorities were unsure about the sex or precise age, except that this was an adult younger than 70.

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Bucks County detectives took possession of the skull in October 2019 and gave it to the coroner’s office, prosecutors said. In September 2022, the skull was then sent to a forensic genealogy company, Othram, for testing.

Othram determined the skull possibly belonged to Alt, linking him thanks to his now-grown daughter contributing DNA to a public genealogy database, which resulted in a potential match.

“Bucks County Detectives spoke to the contributor, a 49-year-old Florida woman, on Jan. 4,” they said. “The woman told Detectives she was 11 years old when her father, Richard Thomas Alt, went missing in Trenton. She said her father’s girlfriend was murdered in 1985 and her father had not been seen since.”

The woman shared her DNA results from the genealogy website and Othram confirmed the father-daughter link.

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

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Alt was 31 when he was reported missing to New Jersey’s Trenton Police Department in early 1985. He was last seen on Christmas Eve 1984 by his parents. His girlfriend Laurie Suydam was found dead in the Delaware River in April 1985.

The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office is taking point on the homicide investigation into Alt’s and Suydam’s deaths. They did not immediately respond to a Law&Crime request for more information.

“The Bucks County District Attorney’s Office considers our investigation closed due to lack of evidence of any crime being committed in Bucks County,” Pennsylvania prosecutors said.

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