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Body identified, but questions remain
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Body identified, but questions remain

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Madison County investigators now know whose body was found in February -- but they don’t know how 24-year-old Jacob John Henningsen died, or what led him to a stand of trees in the countryside near Tilden.

And they might not ever know.

“There’s really no way to determine what happened to him unless some new information comes up,” said Investigator Jon Downey. “But quite honestly, we don’t anticipate any new information.”

Henningsen was originally from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, but had traveled to Norfolk with friends the weekend of July 4, 2015. He was last seen alive two days later.

His sister said he had been addicted to meth, was clean for five years but had relapsed and was facing prison time.

“When he went to Nebraska we thought he was on the run,” Andrea Thornton said in an email. “We hoped that was the case but when he didn’t call or message anyone for four months, we knew something was wrong. He could never not talk to anyone; that’s just not who he was.”

His family reported him missing Nov. 20, 2015.

In late February, a pair of antler hunters found a partially clothed body in a shelter belt east of Tilden, about 100 yards from the highway. Investigators asked for the public’s help and sought an anthropological study by forensic science faculty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which determined the body had belonged to a young white male with sandy brown hair.

The Nebraska State Patrol was unable to gather cellular DNA from the remains, so a lab at the University of North Texas retrieved mitochondrial DNA from a piece of bone and Madison County last month found a match in a database.

Investigators believe Henningsen died not long after he was last seen in early July 2015, but they haven’t determined how, or why. They haven’t ruled out foul play but they found no signs of it, Downey said.

Thornton believes her brother was killed by the men he traveled with to Nebraska. She questioned how her brother, who didn’t drive, ended up more than 20 miles out of town, and what happened to his wallet and money. He had a lot of it, she said, from a recent insurance settlement.

Her brother Jake always saw the good in people, she said, and she fears that could have got him killed.

“People see an addict and stop caring. Yes, he's done some bad things as in getting in trouble, but he really was a good-hearted person.”

Downey couldn’t say how Henningsen had ended up out of town, or what happened to his wallet. But two men who came to Nebraska with Henningsen were interviewed by Sioux Falls police when they returned, he said, and there was no indication they had anything to do with his disappearance.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter.

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