CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — It’s been nearly four decades since a man’s skeleton was found on the side of the highway.

The remains were spotted back in 1985 by a man who had stopped off the side of I-195 West in Fairhaven.

Investigators at the time had few clues as to who the skeleton belonged to, according to retired Massachusetts State Police Detective Ken Martin.

(Courtesy: Bristol County District Attorney’s Office)

“The biggest clue we found was a tax stamp on a pack of cigarettes, which indicated the person was from Rhode Island,” he recalled.

Martin remembers carefully preserving the bones and shipping them off to the FBI laboratory in Washington, D.C.

That’s where investigators made a cast of the victim’s face to try and determine what he had looked like when he was alive. A photo of the cast was sent to media outlets across Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Martin said while the image did generate some leads, none of them panned out.

With little else to go on, the investigation into the unidentified man’s death went cold.

But what investigators didn’t know is that four years prior to the discovery, a Cranston man had vanished without a trace.

Keith Olson was reported missing by his family in April 1981. Investigators learned Olson was dating a woman whose ex-boyfriend had ties to the Mafia and was last seen leaving a home with two unidentified men.

Olson’s family eventually just assumed he was dead and that his body would never be found.

It wasn’t until Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn III launched the Unidentified Bodies Project that the skeleton found on the side of the highway would be linked to Olson’s disappearance.

Keith Olson (Courtesy: Bristol County District Attorney’s Office)

Quinn said detectives decided to send the unidentified remains to Othram, a forensic genetic genealogy laboratory based in Texas.

It wouldn’t take long for the lab to trace the skeleton’s DNA back to Olson’s family.

Their DNA matched the unidentified remains, according to Quinn, confirming that Olson was the man who had been killed and dumped on the side of the highway.

Quinn said detectives have already identified a person of interest believed to be responsible for Olson’s death: his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend.

Though he died back in 2019, investigators don’t think he acted alone.

“We feel there’s at least one other person involved in this murder,” Quinn said.

He hopes that with the public’s help, investigators will finally piece together what happened to Olson.

“We’re not giving up,” Quinn added. “But we need help to make additional progress.”

In a statement to 12 News, Olson’s family described him as being loving, protective and loyal.

“He has never been — not for a moment — out of our minds and hearts,” his family wrote. “Keith was a vibrant person whose life, disappearance and discovery have meant to much to those who will forever love him.”

Olson’s family “wholeheartedly” thanked the investigators for their efforts.

“They have brought Keith’s remains home to us so that he may finally be laid to rest and have the peace he deserves,” the family continued. “No family should ever have to endure this long and painful anguish of not knowing what happened to their son, their brother, their Keith.”

Anyone with information regarding Olson’s disappearance or death is urged to contact the Massachusetts State Police by calling (855) MA-SOLVE or emailing

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