The Knox County Sheriff's Office announced Tuesday they've identified the victim in a 32-year-old cold case.
In January 2013, Officer Amy Dobbs sent dental and skeletal remains from two unidentified cold cases to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
She hoped their state-of-the-art technology could help identify where the victims had grown up.
Experts developed images of what one of the victims might have looked like in their early teens.
They planned to then circulate those age-regressed photos in the geographic areas suggested by the Smithsonian.
But when local media started circulating the photos in Knoxville, Dobbs says they got a hit.
The family of Howard Hardin Jr. contacted KCSO to say they believed one of the pictures could be their loved one.
"It gives you chill bumps," said Dobbs, remarking on how much the image developed by experts resembles a family photo of the victim.
For Dobbs, it was the culmination of two years and countless hours of effort.
"I am passionate about it, there's always a family involved," says Dobbs. "I think of it as a vacant place at the dinner table every night."
Hardin's remains were found in January 1982, concealed in an east Knox County field about a year after he first went missing from his Linden Avenue apartment.
Investigators discovered he had been shot execution style in the back of the head.
They recovered a bullet, as well as some of Hardin's clothing and boots.
Dobbs says family members had mixed reactions to the positive identification. Even after 32 years, she says some held out hope Hardin was still alive.
"It's never closure, but it's another piece to the puzzle and obviously this is a piece to the puzzle for the family," she said.
Now that she knows the victim's name, Dobbs says she's even more intent on finding out who killed him.
could be my child, I don't want my child to ever go missing," said
Dobbs. "If God forbid [they] ever did, I would want to know somebody was out
there giving as much time going after whoever did it."