Family of teen missing for nearly 40 years is 'thankful' to have closure after so long

ADDISON, Michigan (WXYZ) - After nearly 40 years, James Bowman finally knows what happened to his big brother, Andrew. 

"Finally getting the DNA results back yesterday was just the period on the end of the sentence to let us know that we actually, finally found him," said James, who was just 4-years-old when Andrew left Addison High School in Lenawee County and never returned home.

Andrew was 15 years old when he went missing on Feb. 12, 1979.

Mitchell Bowman, Andrew's stepfather, says the teen had gotten in trouble at school and didn't want to go home. The family could never have imagined decades would pass without a word from him.

Mitchell says there were times he thought Andrew was going to walk back into the house.

What Andrew's loved ones didn't know is that two days after he ran away, he was hit and killed by a semi-truck while hitchhiking on I-75 near Macon, Georgia. 

The teen was buried as a "John Doe," and in the coroner's report, a note listing a possible name of "Drew Greer."

All the unidentified teen had in his pockets were candy wrappers and a note with a phone number on it. 

Investigators in Georgia called the phone number and someone who had given their John Doe a ride said he told them he was from Michigan and his name was Drew Greer. 

Unfortunately, there was no database of the missing in 1979.

Mitchell Bowman said despite going to police here in Michigan, his stepson's name was not on a report because police believed Andrew would return home in a few days.

Bowman says he and Andrew's mother were once suspects in his disappearance, saying investigators "wanted answers," but the family had no idea where Andrew had gone.

Then in 2014, Andrew's younger brother says he contacted a friend, Daniel Cherry, who is a journalist for The Daily Telegram. He asked his friend to write a story about Andrew in hopes that the case would be reopened.  

Michigan State Police Sgt. Larry Rothman entered Andrew Greer into a database of missing persons and began working on the case. 

Meanwhile, down in Georgia, retired Bibb County Sheriff Deputy Anthon Strickland never stopped looking into the case, searching updated databases for teens that went missing around the time in 1979 that the young John Doe was killed. Strickland went to the funeral of the unidentified teen that they believed was around 15 years old.

When Strickland began to suspect a possible link between missing Andrew Greer, whose name was now in stories about the missing teen, and his John Doe, he went to the coroner's office and saw an old note in the file that indicated the driver whose phone number was found on the dead teen told investigators that the young hitchhiker said he was from Michigan and his name was Drew Greer. 

In December 2017, Strickland contacted Sgt. Rothman and told him he believed he found Andrew Greer. 

In April 2018, Rothman traveled to Georgia where the body of the 1979 John Doe was exhumed for DNA testing. 

On Tuesday, Aug. 14, it was confirmed. Andrew Greer was John Doe. 

"I'm thankful," said Mitchell Bowman. "I'm 70, but I'm thankful that I found out."

Andrew's mother, Joyce, died about a year ago. 

Andrew's father reportedly died several years ago after desperately hoping his son would be found and pushing to launch one of the initial investigations in 2000.

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