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What happened to Sgt. Donald Rexroth?

Air Force airman went missing 40 years ago; his remains were found in woods near Sawyer in 2017; foul play suspected

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations Cold Case Team and law enforcement partners depart the forest where Sgt. Donald Rexroth’s remains were recovered. As he was taken, the team lined the road to pay full military honors. The AFOSI Cold Case Team seeks to find missing airmen to offer closure to families, while seeking the truth, and if warranted, to ensure justice is served no matter how long it takes. (Photo courtesy of the AFOSI)

QUANTICO, Va. — Human remains discovered in 2017 in the woods near K.I. Sawyer have been identified as those of Sgt. Donald Rexroth, an airman assigned to K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base who disappeared 40 years ago.

Rexroth disappeared without a trace and subsequent investigations into his whereabouts turned up no clues.

In 2017, Air Force Office of Special Investigations Special Agent Charles Pipkins of the Cold Case Team opened the case file and began retracing the steps of Sgt. Donald C. Rexroth in the days before his disappearance.

Pipkins talked to family members, friends and Sgt. Rexroth’s wife. Rexroth’s mother and siblings were adamant that foul play had been involved in his disappearance, insisting that he wouldn’t have left without saying goodbye.

In November 2017, hunters discovered human remains in the woods near K.I. Sawyer. The Michigan State Police recovered the remains and they were logged into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

Sgt. Donald Rexroth

It wasn’t until 2018 when Pipkins was reviewing NamUs that he had a break in the case.

“I searched the database in 2018 and noticed the unidentified remains of a male matching the age and height of Rexroth,” Pipkins said in a news release. “I began working to match the DNA of the bones to that of Rexroth’s family members to confirm my suspicion that the remains were those of Sgt. Rexroth.”

In July of this year, he found the remains (that) were those of the long-missing Rexworth.

A few weeks later, AFOSI deployed an 18-member team to search for and recover any additional remains possible.

They were joined by Michigan State Police, the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Forestry Service’s Law Enforcement Division and a team from the Northern Michigan University Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

For four days the team worked to recover additional remains and personal effects from Rexroth.

Although his remains have been recovered, there are still several unanswered questions surrounding Rexroth’s death. Foul play is suspected.

Anyone with details they believe might be relevant to his disappearance is asked to contact the AFOSI Tipline at 1-877-246-1453, or submit the tip anonymously online at: https://www.tip411.com/tips/new?alert_group_id=21111.

“I’m glad we could offer some closure to Sgt. Rexroth’s family,” Pipkins said. “Now our hope is that someone comes forward with new information to help us figure out what happened to Rexroth.”

According to missingveterans.com, Rexroth, age 23, went missing around 9 p.m. May 3, 1979 after last being seen by his wife while they were cleaning another military couple’s living quarters at K.I. Sawyer. Rexroth departed the house on foot wearing only a white thermal underwear top, blue jeans and tennis shoes, with temperatures that night at or below freezing.

The AFOSI Cold Case Team seeks to find missing airmen to offer closure to families and to ensure justice is served, regardless of how long it takes.