Nearly 30 years after the mutilated, decomposed body of a man was discovered deep in the woods of Port Charlotte, Florida, detectives with the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office say they have identified a possible victim of the alleged “Hog Trail Murders” serial killer.
In a statement released on Wednesday, detectives identified John Doe #1 as Gerald “Jerry” Anthony Lombard, a Massachusetts man who disappeared in the early 1990s.
In February 2020, the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office released an updated rendering to the public with the hope someone would recognize him and come forward to put a name to the victim, Detective Mike Vogel told Dateline at the time.
The investigation began on February 1, 1994, when the sheriff’s office got a call that a badly decomposed body had been found in a desolate wooded area near Wyandotte Avenue and Tulip Street in the northern part of Charlotte County. Detectives were unable to determine the man’s identity or cause of death. And so he was given the name John Doe #1.
Between 1994 and 1997, the bodies of four other men were found in similar desolate areas across Charlotte and Sarasota counties. They were found naked with their genitals mutilated, leading detectives to believe this was the work of a serial killer.
Detective Vogel previously told Dateline it appeared that over the course of more than a decade, the killer targeted white males between the ages of 20-35, who were transient or drifters, in what became known as the “Hog Trail Murders.”
Detective Vogel told Dateline that the killer would approach men in the area, specifically drifters or homeless men, and ask them to go into a desolate wooded area and pose nude for photographs in exchange for money.
“He targeted these men who he knew needed money,” Vogel said. “He’d lure them into the woods, tie them to a tree for ‘bondage photos,’ then that’s when he’d kill them. He’d sexually assault them and then kill them.”
One of the men was identified as 21-year-old Richard Montgomery, who authorities said was a drifter. He had ligature marks to multiple parts of his body and his cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation.
In 1997, Daniel Conahan was convicted of strangling Richard Montgomery. He is currently on death row and remains the prime suspect for at least two other victims, Vogel said. He added that authorities believe John Doe #1 was also one of Conahan’s victims.
Detective Vogel told Dateline when they went back to the area where John Doe #1 was found, they discovered what they believe to be rope markings on the trees.
“That was Daniel Conahan’s motive,” Vogel said. “Those rope marks were from where he used bondage to tie his victims to the trees.”
Authorities have only been able to charge Conahan with the murder of Richard Montgomery, but they believe he is linked to all the murders of the men found in that area at that time and he has since been known as the “Hog Trail Killer.”
In 2013, John Doe #1’s tooth was submitted to a lab for DNA testing. After the seven years it took for his DNA to be processed, it was uploaded to two databases and matched other DNA samples which led detectives to possible relatives.
According to the news release, a woman believed to be John Doe’s niece had also submitted her DNA to Ancestry.com, which they said was likely how the match was made. In April 2021, detectives took DNA samples from Jerry Lombard’s sister, brother and son, which led them to verify his identity.
Detectives learned that Jerry Lombard was born in Massachusetts on August 30, 1962 and lived in Lowell, Massachusetts. He was one of 17 siblings, but the brothers and sisters had not heard from him since around 1991 or 1992.
“According to the family, Jerry was a bit of a drifter,” the sheriff’s office said. “And it was common for him to disappear for long periods of time.”
Detective Vogel told Dateline that the cold case team continues to investigate Jerry’s case.
The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office’s cold case team is asking anyone who knew Jerry Lombard or may have seen him with Daniel Conahan to call detectives at 941-639-2101.