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December 20, 2014

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Remains of Vietnam vet missing since 1980 found in septic tank

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Scott Sonner / AP

Storey County Sheriff Gerald Antinoro speaks to reporters at Washoe County sheriff’s headquarters in Reno, Nev., Thursday, May 1, 2014, about the opening of an investigation into the apparent 1980 homicide of George Benson Webster of Sun Valley, who is pictured in the background.

RENO — Sheriff's deputies in northern Nevada are investigating the suspected murder of a highly-decorated Vietnam veteran whose remains were found last summer in a septic tank near the historic Comstock mining town of Virginia City nearly 34 years after he disappeared.

Investigators traced the partial serial number on a medallion found with the skeletal remains to ultimately identify George Benson Webster, who was 32 when his mother reported the Sun Valley auto mechanic missing in 1980, detectives said Thursday. His mother has since died.

Washoe County Undersheriff Tim Kuzanek said authorities received a tip in 1986 that Webster might have been killed and his body dumped in a septic tank in south Reno, but it didn't pan out at the time.

"Years of intense investigation yielded no concrete evidence as to his whereabouts. Recently that all changed," he told reporters at a news conference at sheriff's headquarters.

The remains were badly degraded but forensic scientists at the University of North Texas were able to determine that he apparently died from a blow to the head, Kuzanek said.

Detectives are now trying to find anyone who knew him or another man of interest who's also dead, Calvin "Cowboy" Green, who knew Webster in Sun Valley, just north of Reno, Kuzanek said.

"At this point, there are a lot of unanswered questions," Kuzanek said in appealing for help from the public. "There is really no piece of information that is too small in this case. Anything should not be considered insignificant."

The remains surfaced in August when a crew emptied the septic tank in the yard of a home in the Virginia Highlands on the western edge of Virginia City, about 20 miles southeast of Reno.

"We knew from the beginning it was a homicide since no body ends up accidentally in a septic tank," Storey County Sheriff Gerald Antinoro said.

With the lead from the medallion, they were able to find a relative who provided a DNA sample to confirm Webster's identity, he said.

Webster served in the Navy. In addition to the Vietnam Service medal and National Defense Service medal, he received two Bronze Stars for heroism and acts of merit or meritorious service in a combat zone, Antinoro said. He was an avid outdoorsman, gunsmith, knife-maker and member of the Mountain Man Society, a group dedicated to the preservation of the ways of the American pioneers, Antinoro said.

Detectives have never found a beige, 1972 Dodge four-door station wagon that Webster owned at the time of his disappearance. Kuzanek declined to identify Green as a suspect in the case, but said "we are not ruling out anyone."

"We continue to develop leads," Kuzanek said. "A 34-year-old case can be very challenging to investigate, but we will continue to work this case as though it happened yesterday."

Anyone with information is urged to contact the Washoe County sheriff's office at 775-328-3320 or Secret Witness at 775-322-4900.

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