Identity of West Alabama ‘Unknown Boy’ finally answered

Unknown Boy

After 60 years of uncertainty, West Alabama’s Unknown Boy finally has a name: He’s Daniel Paul Armantrout of Miami, and he was 15 when he died.

On March 27, 1961, Daniel was hitchhiking near the Bibb-Shelby County line when he was picked up by a gentleman who offered him a ride. Not long after, the two were involved in a wreck. The driver survived. Daniel didn’t. He carried no form of identification. For decades, his picture spread around the country. But no one knew who he was.

Jim Oakley took that picture. At the time, he was the publisher of The Centreville Press.

“It’s been an unfinished part of my life for many years,” Oakley said. “We worked hard on this story to start with. I made pictures of the boy at the funeral home that night. I got an artist at Birmingham News to draw some eyes on him. That’s the picture on the tombstone.”

Spreading information was a lot harder back then, he said.

“If we had email, Facebook, all that kind of stuff, we could have covered the nation in seconds,” Oakley said. “But we had to mail out through the post office. We put it out and made a lot of contacts, but it played out into nothing.”

Bibb County Coroner C.W. West knew the story for as long as he can remember.

“I’ve heard about it all my life,” West said.  “It brought me to tears when we heard of the match. It was very emotional.”

In 2016, Daniel was exhumed so his DNA could be tested. Five years later, modern technology and genealogists solved the mystery. While his parents are no longer living, investigators tracked down one of Daniel’s brothers, who still lives in Florida. Next month, he’ll come to Centreville for a memorial service.

Oakley said he’s visited the gravesite dozens of times over the years, but his latest visit offered the closure he’s been after for decades. Now, the Unknown Boy has a name.

“Danny, March 27, 1961,” Oakley said aloud at the gravesite. “As a parent myself, I can imagine how it would be to have a child who was missing all this long time.  It’s sad to think that his mother and father have since passed.”

Danny’s case is now the oldest case the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has ever solved through genetic genealogy.

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