Unknown in Life

On March 27, 1961, a young boy was hitchhiking on River Bend Road near Centreville, Alabama. He was picked up by a driver who, minutes later, lost control of the truck, struck a bridge rail, and plunged into the Cahaba River 75 feet below. Although the driver survived, the boy did not.

There are conflicting reports about what the boy told the driver. In the short time the boy was able to speak with the driver, he allegedly told the driver he had run away from home after his parents separated but gave no further details. In another version he allegedly told the driver he was running away from a dysfunctional home and was hitchhiking to California to join the Marine Corps. In yet another version, he was believed to have been given the choice of joining the Navy or going to an orphanage. The conflicting stories were never resolved, since the driver of the truck, James White, was killed seven months later when his truck struck an embankment approximately eight miles from the accident that took the life of the young boy.

Having been recovered by divers shortly after the accident, the boy’s remains were in remarkably good condition. Estimated at between 14 and 17 years of age, a crude carving on the left forearm bore the inscription “R Y + Love.” The boy was approximately 5’6” in height and had light brown hair and blue eyes. The driver stated that the boy walked with a limp. Personal effects included a suitcase full of clothing, a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes with a South Carolina tax stamp on it, and a Timex watch. He carried no personal identification.

Despite having his photograph widely circulated in newspapers throughout the southeast, the boy remained unidentified and was eventually buried in the Centreville Memorial Cemetery, just a short walk from the Bibb County Courthouse. Money raised by the local community paid for the casket and vault as well as a headstone with the inscription “Unknown, Killed in Automobile Accident March 27, 1961, Unknown in Life but Recognized in Death.”

In 2015 the Bibb County Coroner requested that an exhumation be performed and contacted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Dr. Snow deployed to Centreville in 2016 and assisted with the exhumation and transport to the Alabama Department of Forensic Science where Dr. Snow performed an anthropological examination and selected bones to be retained for DNA analysis. During Dr. Snow’s examination he noticed that the lower leg bones were deformed, which likely accounted for the limp noticed by the driver of the truck. The boy’s remains were reinterred in Centreville later that afternoon.

Five years later genetic genealogy identified the boy as 15-year-old Daniel Paul Armantrout. Daniel, “Danny” as he was known, was the youngest of three brothers, two of whom ran away from their home in Tennessee at different times to escape a difficult home situation. The middle brother reported that he was in the Army when Danny ran away and was never reported missing. He also confirmed that Danny had polio and wore braces as a child, which accounted for the misshapen lower legs observed in the morgue and the limp reported by the driver. After 60 years, Daniel Armantrout had finally been identified. The oldest brother remains missing.

The original headstone still marks Danny’s grave. A new footstone, however, is inscribed “Daniel Paul Armantrout, “Danny,” Identified on October 30, 2021, Dec. 28, 1945, Mar. 27, 1961.”