ANDERSON — Authorities identified the human remains found along the White River at River Bend Park, near Grandview Golf Course, within four months of the grisly discovery by mushroom hunters in April.
Ronald Mandrell, 52, went missing 16 days before his birthday in July 2018. Family members living in Anderson reported that he was last seen driving a black Trailblazer that was found at the entrance of Derby Downs on Madison Avenue. His body was located about half a mile down the river in a secluded area of River Bend Park.
Attempts by The Herald Bulletin to contact the family members who reported Mandrell missing were unsuccessful.
Madison County Coroner Danielle Noone said a positive DNA match was obtained by the Indiana State Police, confirming the identity of the remains as Mandrell.
She said only 70% of Madrell’s body was located and this was her first unknown identification case as a coroner.
“It was interesting in all aspects, especially learning the available resources to obtain positive identification,” Noone said. “There was only skeletal remains remaining.”
She said Mandrell’s remains were taken to Dr. Krista E. Latham, associate professor of Biology and Anthropology and director of the Human Identification Center at the University of Indianapolis.
Noone said Latham and her team conducted a skeletal analysis of the remains and an odontologist was brought in to do an analysis of his dental records. The Indiana State Police analyzed DNA samples through their database and a match was made with Mandrell.
His time of death, the cause of death and manner of death are undetermined, Noone said. She attributes the quick identification of Mandrell’s remains to teamwork and collaboration of several agencies working together and sharing information.
Amy Copeland started dating Mandrell when she was a senior in high school. The couple lost a child together early in their relationship and, when Copeland became pregnant with their second child, Mandrell was already moving to Florida where he got into legal trouble.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve talked to him,” said Copeland, who lives in Kansas City, Kansas. “He actually didn’t know he had a daughter until Elainna was 5 years old. Our daughter is now 31.”
Copeland said she lost contact with her daughter’s father and thought she was doing the right thing by not telling him about their child. She said Mandrell struggled in life and she now wonders what she could have done differently to prevent it from happening.
“At one time, he was a Golden Gloves boxer in Anderson,” she said. “I’m not sure what years that was. He was a kind person, he just got lost in drugs and different things.”
Copeland said Mandrell had dyslexia and had a difficult time in school.
“There weren’t very many programs there for him and he got mixed up and lost in the drugs,” she said.
One of her favorite memories was the time he bought shoes for two children her sister babysat.
“The mother didn’t make much money and the kids didn’t have very good shoes and he went out and bought those little kids shoes,” Copeland said. “He was kind. He wouldn’t hurt a child or anyone unless he was defending himself. He just didn’t know how to be in society, truthfully.”
His daughter, Elainna Morton, wrote her father when he was in prison and sent him pictures of his granddaughter. Like her mother, Morton says she wishes she could have done more to be involved in her father’s life and said she regrets not having more time with him.
“She sent him pictures of his granddaughter when he was in prison in Indiana,” said Copeland. “He sent the pictures back and I think this is another kind thing because he said I don’t mean to hurt you feelings princess, but I’m sending the pictures back because prison is not a place to have pictures of a beautiful little girl at.”
Copeland said Mandrell’s death has been hard on his family.
“His mother loved him,” Copeland said. “She was a single mom living in Oaks apartments on assisted living trying to raise her two sons on minimal income. It’s just really sad he got lost in judicial system. If he had gotten the help with his education and if they had known then what they know now about dyslexia — in the 70s and 80s there was not a lot of help for him.”
A check of the missing persons list in Madison County after Mandrell’s remains were found showed more than 31 people missing.
That number has been cut in half following an investigation by The Herald Bulletin.
Some of the people on the list were not missing and, while the list is updated regularly by the state, the information was inaccurate.
Anderson Police Chief Tony Watters said changes were made within the department to address the issue.
“We don’t have a special division or a dedicated division for missing persons, but we do have supervisors of CID that are — as of now — assigned to those cases,” he said. “We needed to be a lot more efficient and when it was brought to our attention, or my attention, that we had been a little lax on clearing out (databases for) missing persons, it was time to do things differently.
“We are currently doing things differently so we can strive to be better and better serve the public.”
Watters said if a person is reported missing, supervisors are require to make contact with the people who reported the person missing and family members every 90 days and a supplemental report with any action taken is required.
“Some of these might stay on there a little longer, but we are going to do everything we can do with a high level of urgency and efficiency to make sure that list stays current,” Watters said. “When it was brought to our attention that it wasn’t, we were subpar, so we want to improve and show that we are willing to accept when we are not doing so well and willing to move forward positively.”
Watters said everyone has benefited after a closer look at the way the missing person cases were handled.
“It opened my eyes to some of the things we weren’t doing well enough and we want to do better in our community,” he said. “We don’t want to get caught in a situation where we aren’t doing enough.
“What we now have in place is going to rectify and I believe solve any and all these problems.”
Watters said he can understand why people may feel not enough was being done to find their loved ones, but the changes will help address those fears.
“These guys have taken the bull by the horns and are going with it, he said. “I’m very pleased with what they are doing with from the uniform guys all the way throughout, they work in unison and it’s impressive.”
Watters also said while Mandrell is no longer missing, his department is still investigating the circumstances surrounding his death.
Copeland said it is hard for her to imagine Mandrell dying alone in the woods.
“It just makes me sad,” she said. “People will see the criminal in him and feel his life is less valuable because he has been in trouble, but everybody is more than that. Sometimes people get broken and they never get their pieces get put back together and it’s really sad.”