DNA puts police closer to cracking mystery of the Spring Grove skull

The small town of Spring Grove in southern Minnesota is home to a mystery that has gone unsolved for seventeen years.

In 2005, a human skull was found in an ash pit of a home built in the 1850s. Despite years without answers, just a few days ago the case moved a small step closer to being solved.

Joycelyn Rostad and her husband bought the Spring Grove home in 1967. They were the home’s eighth owners.

"It's just the way it was when it was built in 1893," said Rostad.

In 1977, they took down a wall to use the fireplace, but it wasn’t until 2005 that they discovered it had an ash pit. Wanting to use it, they had it cleaned but that worker spotted something back in the corner of the ash-filled pit: a human skull.

The skull that was found in an ash pit in Spring Grove, Minnesota. (Spring Grove Police Department / Supplied)

He called the police chief and the chief called Joycelyn. In the years that followed the skull bounced from lab to lab and it was determined that it belonged to a white male about 32 years old.

However, the biggest clue was what may have caused the giant hole on the top right of the skull.

"[Investigators] had determined that the cuts in the skull were from a medical instrument," explained Spring Grove Police Chief Paul Folz.

As it turns out, in the early 1900s. Family doctor Melvin Nelson lived and worked out of the home but still -- medical procedure, natural death or homicide -- there have been no solid answers as to how the man died or why, at least part of him, ended up in Joycelyn’s ash pit.

Now the case had been pretty much at a standstill for years, but just a few nights ago, Chief Folz finally got the email he had been waiting for. Through DNA, a lab in Texas was able to come up with five distant relatives who may be somehow linked to the remains.

Two of the distant relatives are into genealogy and will have discussions directly with the Texas lab involved in the case, hopefully coming up with some answers.

For now, a new chapter of investigation is underway, offering up a renewed hope that this case will be solved.

Joycelyn Rostad's home (FOX 9)

"I don’t know if anybody cares but it’s always that family reunion when the older guys are sitting around," the chief explained. "'You know, what ever happened to Uncle Leroy? We never did hear.' Well maybe I got the piece that holds that for some family."

But, for now, only the home itself holds the answers. If only, the walls could talk.