A decade-old cold case centered on a Navy veteran who disappeared without a trace in rural Missouri is hot again after an amateur sleuth and YouTube creator’s help led police to unidentified human remains.

Donnie Erwin, a 59-year-old Camdenton resident, went missing on Dec. 29, 2013, after he went out for cigarettes and never returned. His disappearance piqued the interest of longtime true c*rime enthusiast and videographer James Hinkle last year, and the Youtuber spent a year tracing generations of Erwin’s relatives and spending his free time searching for him after work, documenting his efforts on his channel. He eventually discovered Erwin’s car hidden in a small pond.

Deputies and firefighters pulled Erwin’s algae-encrusted Hyundai Elantra and a titanium hip from a roadside drainage pond less than 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) from his home in December 2023, almost exactly a decade after he went missing.

“While a forensic pathologist will have to examine the remains to determine for certain if they are indeed those of Mr. Erwin, investigators are confident the hip and remains belong to him,” the Camden County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

The case had gone dormant for years after Erwin’s disappearance, frustrating investigators and his family. Yvonne Erwin-Bowen, Erwin’s sister, said she felt emotions beyond pain, frustration, aggravation and sorrow that she “can’t even label.”

“This is one of those cases that keeps you up,” sheriff’s office spokesperson Sgt. Scott Hines said. “Because the car just disappeared, and zero signs of him anywhere.”

Hinkle had skills that equipped him to take up the search.

“I just decided, well, I’m a scuba diver. I’m a drone pilot already,” Hinkle said. “I’m like, ‘What the heck? I’ll just go look.’”

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