CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Clyde Gibbs has been solving 'human puzzles' for 18 years, and always comes back to the same series of questions.
"Was it a blunt force injury? Was it a sharp force injury? Was it a gunshot injury?" he asks.
For Gibbs, a Medical Examiner Specialist at North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the task isn't rooted in "who did it" but rather "who it is?"
In many ways, he's North Carolina's bone collector.
"We've had cases that go back to the 1970s, or cases that are still not identified," Gibbs said.
Tucked away in storage at the state medical examiner's office in Raleigh are more than 100 boxes of human remains from across the state. One pending case, which happened 125 miles north of Charlotte, still gnaws at him.
"The child case from Orange County in 1998, ten year old male that's still unidentified," he said. "That's biggest on a lot of radars as to why is there a ten year old child that's not got a name."
Lieutenant Tim Horne has been connected to the investigation since 1998.
"I've been there since day one, when the 911 call was made," he said.
Beneath the towering highway signage near Buckhorn Road and Interstate 85, a simple cross pays tribute to an unknown victim. The memorial spells out the year, but doesn't offer a name. It just says the word 'boy.'
"The medical examiner listed it as a homicide based on the fact that it was an eight to ten year old child left there unattended, in these circumstances," Horne said.
In the case of the unidentified boy, Clyde Gibbs has relied on reconstructive art work to help investigators in Orange County.
Gibbs says the investigation has utilized many outside resources.
"We've worked with the State Bureau of Investigation, we've worked with FBI. We've worked with the Smithsonian," he said.
Even a sculpted image of what the child may have looked like has managed to get a couple of thousand hits on YouTube.
"It does take a morbid curiosity in some respects to understand what I'm looking at," Gibbs said.
His workload requires staying on top of 115 cases. It also means remaining sensitive and not cynical.
"We want to make sure that they're treated with due respect regardless of whether they're unidentified or identified, "Gibbs said. "I think it's more important that we have something to return to families versus nothing."
At the end of the day, Clyde Gibbs feels closure comes in finding a name and family behind an unsolved case number.