This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
For one full week, Midvale police pondered a mystery. A comatose man, brutally beaten about the head and found in an east Midvale parking lot under a blanket on Jan. 6, had no wallet, no identification, no tattoos, no unique scars on his body.
He wore a flannel shirt, blue jeans and steel-toed boots. His hands were heavily calloused. He was no stranger to hard work.
When the man died Thursday, still tethered to life-support equipment, he remained a John Doe. His body went to the state medical examiner for an autopsy.
His fingerprints, matched against a set already in a criminal database, provided the answer. This was George Benally, 43, a registered sex offender on parole for felony attempted sexual abuse. He was married, a father of seven, his last known address was an Ogden motel.
Police say Benally was beaten somewhere else and dumped in the parking lot. There are no blood spatters, bone or tissue fragments at the scene. Nothing like "CSI," where those crack detective-scientists sweep and dust surfaces and fill Zip- loc bags with trace evidence before neatly solving a grisly homicide in 53 minutes.
Late Friday afternoon, when Midvale police Chief Gerald Maughan told me the victim's name and began unfolding details of his life, he heaved a sigh of relief. Discovering Benally's identity was the first step in trying to solve this crime. But it's more than that, and Maughan knows it.
A few hours earlier, Maughan, a career cop who worked for many years on West Valley City's police force, had said, "I'm sure this guy must have someone out there. He must have a mother. He must have a family, maybe children. Someone knows who he is."
Identity. When every machine-made device we use to tell the world who we are - driver license, passport, green card, photographs - vanishes, then what? When a name is all you have left, it becomes everything to find it.
Men and women who do battle for their country set off with little more than a pitifully small income and a set of dog tags around their necks. Those who die without dog tags are the subject of intense identity searches. Those who go missing in action become symbols of great sacrifice for their peers and their country.
How else to explain the solemn, magnetic pull of the tombs of the unknown soldiers? The monuments stand in countries around the world - a universal symbol of bravery for all, honoring a body and soul we'll never be able to name.
Identity is all.
Victims of identity theft will tell you so. Losing your name and Social Security number to a clever thief can cause a financial and bureaucratic nightmare, but it's the knowing that a stranger cavalierly walked away with your life - has become you - that really hurts. No one else has a right to the person, the microscopic matter that is you.
So it was that police Chief Maughan and his force scoured neighborhoods, worked the phones and gathered tips for the days leading up to Benally's telling autopsy. At first, given his hair and skin color, they thought he might be Latino. A Spanish-speaking detective began combing predominantly Latino Midvale neighborhoods, interviewing residents for possible clues.
It turned out Benally was American Indian. His wife, according to Maughan, said she did not report her husband missing because it was his habit to disappear for days at a time and return home. He had been a steelworker.
"He's been through the system. From what we can tell, it's been a pretty sad life," Maughan says.
Still, a life. A beginning and ending. An identity. George Benally, 1963-2006.