A search for the victims of serial killer John Wayne Gacy has been credited with identifying the remains of a 16-year-old boy who went missing 41 years ago in Bass River State Park in Burlington County, police said Tuesday.
Steven Soden, who disappeared April 3, 1972, along with 12-year-old friend Donald Caldwell while on a camping trip with a group from the Paterson Orphanage, has been identified as the boy whose remains were found a decade ago in the park, New Jersey State Police said.
Steven’s sister, who lives in Washington state, had submitted DNA in connection with an effort by Cook County, Ill., detectives to identify Gacy’s eight unknown victims, police said.
The sister, identified by authorities in Illinois as April Leonard, and half-brother Ronald Soden had believed Steven may have fallen victim to Gacy, who was executed for killing 33 boys and young men during the 1970s, police said.
Ronald Soden contacted the Cook County Sheriff's Office, saying he returned from serving in Vietnam to learn that while he was gone his mother had put Steven and his younger sister into an orphanage.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said Tuesday that Ronald Soden was told his younger half-sister was still living at the orphanage, but Steven had disappeared a few months earlier when he ran away during the camping trip.
“He started to think that Steven's father was living in Chicago and maybe Steven tried hitchhiking to Chicago,” Dart said. “We were thinking this is a Gacy-type victim, a kid hitchhiking who didn’t know anybody.”
But DNA testing has shown Steven was not killed by Gacy, police said.
Steven and Donald were part of a group of 18 children and four adults from the Paterson Orphanage who 41 years ago had come to camp in Bass River Park 41 for a week, police said. The two boys went missing and were never found, police said.
Three decades later, a piece of a sneaker and four bones were found by an off-duty state trooper walking in Bass River State Park, officials said. Police could not identify the remains and eventually forwarded them to the State Police Forensic Anthropology Lab for further examination.
Lab officials were informed in December by officials at the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification working on the Gacy case that DNA submitted in that case had been matched with the Bass River State Park remains, police said. The Burlington County Medical Examiners Office then identified the remains as that of Steven Soden.
Detectives from the New Jersey State Police Missing Persons Unit are now investigating Steven’s death. They are asking the public for help or information on Donald as well as the Paterson Orphanage group. Anyone with information is asked to call 800-THE-LOST.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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