The remains were positively identified as those of Steven Soden through DNA comparison with his sister, The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger reported Tuesday.
Soden, 16, and his younger sister, April, who had been placed in an orphanage in Paterson, were on a camping trip in Bass River State Forest when he decided to take off with a younger friend, Donald Caldwell, 12. Soden told his sister she was too young to come with them.
In 2000, an off-duty state trooper found four bones and a sneaker while he was walking in the forest, New Jersey State Police reported. But they remained unidentified until Soden's half-brother, Ron, who lives in Tacoma, Wash., heard about an appeal from investigators in Illinois trying to identify unknown victims of serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Ron Soden said Steven's father lived in Chicago and he thought there was a possibility his brother might have headed there.
That lead was a dead end. But April's DNA matched the bones from Bass River State Forest.
State Police said they have no idea how Steven Soden died or what happened to Caldwell. For Ron Soden, 72, the identification means giving up the hope that his half-brother was still alive.
"I always thought maybe some time over the holidays, since he's older now, that I just might get a phone call and that it would have been Steven. But ... yeah, that was my big hope," he told The Star-Ledger.
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