Police said they found a hypodermic needle in the left breast pocket of his shirt. There were no signs of trauma. At the morgue, he was No. 03051. The medical examiner ruled the cause of death hypothermia, and noted drug use.

They had nothing to identify him. His finger prints didn't match anything in the system.

Ward's body was sent to the anatomy board, and used for science, possibly by medical students during the course of their studies. The body was cremated on Jan. 9, 2004, and was interred in Sykesville in June 2006.

Meanwhile, Mack kept searching for her son. She paid an online service to determine whether her son was in prison. She walked the streets of Baltimore looking. She called anybody and everybody she or her son knew. She turned to a private investigator. She stayed up nights crying.

"Despite all of his problems, he was a wonderful person," Mack said. "He was smart. He was extremely handsome. He was funny, he was tender."

On Feb. 1, more than seven years after police had found the body in the Pitcher Street rowhouse, Mack was at home searching the Internet, looking for support groups. She pulled up a website, marylandmissing.com, and saw a drawing of a body with light brown eyes and a description of a tattoo with a cross on the chest.

"I was kind of hanging onto the monitor and just rocking, standing up and sitting down, and I was saying, 'It's him, I know it's him. I found him.'" Mack said. "I never stopped looking."

She called the number on the website and spoke with a founder, Kylen Johnson. "That was the most heartbreaking call I ever had in my life," Johnson said. "It was so raw."

No. 03051 had a name: Matthew Jon Ward.

Mack had found her son.

It was only after authorities had a name that they found a fingerprint match to confirm his identity. Ward had no arrest record in Maryland, and the states in which he had been jailed didn't upload prints for nonviolent offenders into a federal database. Officials obtained prints to make the comparisons.

"I think it's absolutely wonderful of his mother to have been absolutely dogged through the years," said Dr. David Fowler, Maryland's chief medical examiner.

'He wasn't a beggar'

On the streets of Southeast Baltimore, the people who knew Stanislaw Ptak knew him as "Stan," or "Stosh." They recognized his frumpy shape, defined by the piles of clothes he wore as he made his rounds along Canton's waterfront.

There are few records of Ptak, who spent years on the city's streets. He appears to have had no family in the area, with the exception of a sister who did not want to be interviewed.

City police have a record of Ptak, after citing him for trespassing back in 2003. But the officer misspelled his name in the report, writing "Pdak," and put his address at 4 N. Central St., the Baltimore Rescue Mission.

Ptak's routine included moving from bar to bar, but he would usually stay only briefly, often being kicked out because of his appearance.

He sometimes stopped in at Pols Cafe on Foster Street to grab a pint of vodka, and talked with the patrons. The narrow brick rowhouse bar serves domestic beers on tap and offers a Hot Polish Dog for $2 with sauerkraut or chili.

Friends believed Ptak had been homeless for some time after coming to the United States from Poland at least 15 years ago. Stanislaw Mikolajek said he used to let Ptak share his apartment, but couldn't let him stay permanently for fear of losing his housing subsidy.

"I told him I can't help him," said Mikolajek, 59, who said he's on disability and came to the U.S. to escape communism. "I don't work." He said he thought Ptak had a wife and children back in Poland. He never learned to speak English.