Kankakee officials have identified a body found two years ago in a field near a rural subdivision as a former Chicago man missing since 2008, authorities and the man’s family said today.
Ray J. Acklin, whose family said grew up in Chicago and soouth suburban Robbins, was identified through a DNA match with his mother, Patricia Acklin Steward, who still lives at a South Side two-flat Acklin was rehabbing when he disappeared.
Steward said that prior to the discovery last week that the body found April 1, 2009, in Kankakee, was Acklin, his family and friends had been frustrated by a lack of attention to his disappearance except from a few official investigators.
“I don’t know why no one would help,” Steward said.
Although a final ruling has not been made, authorities believe Acklin’s death was a homicide, according to Kankakee County Coroner Robert Gessner and the Kankakee County Sheriff’s office. A final determination has not been made on Acklin’s cause of death, Gessner said.
Acklin, who was 43 at the time, was last seen April 25, 2008. His wife reported him missing from what was then Harrah’s Casino in East Chicago, Ind., after Steward went to meet him at the casino and Steward and Acklin’s wife were unable to locate the man there, Steward said.
Acklin, who was born in 1965, joined the U.S. Army in 1984, just after graduating high school, Steward said. He served in Desert Storm in Kuwait and Iraq, among other duties, Steward said. After he retired from the Army in about 2004 as a staff sergeant, he settled with his wife in Midway, Georgia, near Fort Stewart, a U.S. Army post, Steward said.
Before his disappearance, Acklin had returned to Chicago to work on the two-flat Steward lives in, which she had signed over to him so he could renovate it, Steward said. The same day Steward went to meet him in East Chicago, he had attended a court hearing regarding another property he owned, she said.
Acklin liked to play poker, so Steward had arranged to meet him at the casino before they were both to attend Acklin’s younger sister’s birthday party later that evening.
When Acklin wasn’t at the casino, and then did not show up at the birthday party for his only sister, who is 10 years younger than he, Steward felt suspicious.
“I always held that my son was dead, because we were a very close-knit family,” and never would have left his family without letting them know what he was doing, Steward said. “And he has two kids—they’re grown. But we always talked, about every day or two.”
After Acklin disappeared, Steward and other family members and friends shared information about his disappearance with police and missing persons Web sites.
On April 1, 2009, the decomposed body was found in a grassy area near Sunset Terrace in the rural Kankakee County community of Sun River Terrace. For a while, officials circulated a sketch of what the man might have looked like.
But at some point, deputy Kankakee County coroner Stephanie Jackson was searching through a national missing person database and some of the personal effects found with the Kankakee body matched those listed in a missing persons alert sent out by East Chicago police. A shirt and shoe found with the body, as well as a ring, matched
“He had the ring made in Kuwait,” while he was stationed there at the time of the first Gulf War, Steward said.
Last month, Steward was swabbed for a DNA sample, she said, and on July 12, she was told that the DNA matched.
Gessner and Kankakee County Chief Deputy Sheriff Ken McCabe credited Jackson with figuring out the body was Acklin’s.
“The outstanding cooperation between our two departments and the hard work of Ms. Jackson led to this identification,” Gessner said in a statement released by the sheriff’s office.
On Wednesday, investigators from Kankakee were to meet with East Chicago police to discuss how to move forward with the case, officials from the two agencies said.