TWINSBURG, Ohio — Thanks to genealogical research from the DNA Doe Project, human remains discovered in Twinsburg, Ohio in 1982 have now been identified as those of Frank “Frankie” Little, Jr., who was a guitarist and songwriter for the R&B band The O’Jays.
The partial remains were recovered in a garbage bag behind a now-closed business on Cannon Road in Twinsburg, according to police. A worker found a skull in the snow behind the business. Police then discovered the other body parts in the garbage bag.
The manner of death has been ruled a homicide.
“It’s definitely nice that we can give some answers to the family and hopefully they have some sense of closure,” said Twinsburg Det. Eric Hendershott. “He had a life, and ultimately he ended up here in Twinsburg, with his life taken by another.”
Little was born in Cleveland in 1943 and was raised in northeast Ohio. In the mid 1960s, he was a guitarist and songwriter for The O’Jays. He also served in the U.S. Army for two years, including a deployment to Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
“Frankie was a member of the band in the 1960s,” Hendershott said. “He played guitar with the band in the studio and on tours.”
Little had a daughter who died in 2021 and a son who has not yet been located or identified, police said.
Little was last known to reside in Cleveland, and it is believed he was last alive in the mid 1970s. Not much is known about his disappearance or death.
The identity of the remains was a mystery for almost 40 years. In October, the DNA Doe Project provided names of potential living relatives who were able to provide Little’s name, according to a press release.
A brother in Georgia provided a DNA sample, which was analyzed by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation Crime Lab. Little’s identity was confirmed by Dr. Lisa Kohler with the Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Kohler said data provided to her through DNA testing revealed odds indicating it was 398 million times more likely that the two men were brothers.
“It was clear that there was a match here, that we had finally been able to put a name to those remains,” Kohler said. “I feel comfortable saying he died from unknown injuries and that this is a homicide.”
Kohler said the remains are the oldest stored at the Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office. Arrangements will eventually be made to turn the remains over to relatives for a proper burial.
The connection between the old remains and The O’Jays was an unexpected twist for everyone involved in the case.
“The fact that he was a musician, and it seems like he had some degree of prominence at one point in time, it’s neat to have that background,” Kohler said.
Elias Chan, a volunteer with DNA Doe Project, worked on the case for more than two years.
Chan said the investigation was “far from a slam dunk” and hit many roadblocks along the way as the team searched for potential relatives, but the DNA link finally provided the answers the non-profit organization was seeking.
“The goal is to kind of hang in there, commit to it, keep checking those matches, keep going down the lines and keep thinking innovatively,” Chan said.
Hendershott said with the remains identified 39 years later, the focus now is trying to figure out who killed Little.
“We’re trying to figure out how he got there and who could have put him there. That’s what we don’t know,” he said.
This story was originally published by Bob Jones and Ian Cross on Scripps station WEWS in Cleveland.