Body in Mississippi River identified as missing Boone County man

Friday, April 15, 2011 | 3:55 p.m. CDT; updated 6:43 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 16, 2011

*CLARIFICATION: Further reporting revealed that Billy Joe "JR" Basinger was from Wilton.

COLUMBIA — The head and torso found floating in the Mississippi River in August have been identified as those of a 55-year-old *Wilton man who went missing in March 2010.

DNA results confirmed that the remains were Billy Joe “JR” Basinger, who disappeared along with his Newfoundland and 2000 Toyota Tundra in the early hours of March 22, 2010, wearing blue jeans, house slippers and a green sweatshirt.

The body was first spotted at 7:15 a.m. on August 15, floating between a barge and the coastline. When the torso was pulled from the water about three blocks away from the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in St. Louis, first responders were initially unable to identify the gender of the body, according to a news report by KSDK St. Louis.  

“He was very badly decomposed. There was no clothing left. There were no discernible features. There was a torso, head and tissue. You couldn’t tell much beyond that,” said Rose Psara, St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office chief investigator.

Because of the condition of the body, the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office was afraid they might be unable to identify the body, Psara said.

“The forensic odontologist discovered that the person had not had any upper teeth for several years," Psara said. "That was a very important report we got back and helped us narrow down to Mr. Basinger.”

The Boone County Sheriff’s Department was contacted in January by the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office to obtain a DNA sample of Basinger from his family, authorities said.

“They weren’t saying at the time that it was Mr. Basinger, but they wanted to do some follow-up,” said Sheriff’s Department Detective Tom O’Sullivan.

DNA results positively identified the remains as those of Basinger on Thursday, nearly 13 months from the day that Basinger went missing.

Early that morning, his wife Glenda Basinger, 53, woke up at around 3 a.m. to find Basinger, his truck and the couple’s 180-pound dog Otis missing from their home on Route M, according to the report filed by his wife and the blog that appears to have been created to help find Basinger.

Basinger had recently shaved his head, and at the time of his disappearance, he was carrying a $58 Western Union money order that had never been cashed, according to the blog.

Basinger, an avid fan of online poker games, had last logged into the online poker game Full Tilt at 1:05 a.m., March 22, 2010, according to the blog.

About a week after his disappearance, his wife appears to have written on a message board, “Anyone who knows JR would know, the time for fishing and mushroom hunting is upon us. There is absolutely NO Way he would possibly leave his home of 25 years, his fishing poles and boats and all the other things including me that he loves and not return.”

According to this March 30 post, his US Cellular phone was still working and the cell phone’s reception suggested that he was by the river.

“I have to bring him home. He had been extremely depressed,” she said in the post.

In the weeks following Basinger’s disappearance, his family scoured the area for signs of Basinger and his truck, O’Sullivan said.

“The family did an exhaustive search of the area, and they put fliers everywhere," O'Sullivan said. "On our end, we notified law enforcement everywhere and put Mr. Basinger in statewide and national databases."

The search centered around the Missouri River, where Basinger would often go to fish. The water patrol division of the Missouri State Highway Patrol searched the river bed using sonar technology, but this yielded no results, O’Sullivan said.

“I can't say with any degree of specificity what happened to the dog or the truck. The assumption we’re operating is that they were driven into the river,” O’Sullivan said.

But both have yet to be recovered.

“The truck probably weighs a couple thousand pounds. It probably sank to the bottom or got stuck on something,” O’Sullivan said.

The cause and manner of death are still under investigation, Psara said.

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