A blackened human jaw found on an Australian beach nearly three years ago is now believed to belong to a 15-year-old boy who drowned with his father in a boating accident in 1940.
The breakthrough came after a world-renowned archaeologist read about the mystery in Daily Mail Australia and recognized the jaw’s distinctive discoloration as similar to ancient bones he’d seen before.
The lower jaw was found by 20-year-old Toyah Evans walking her dogs along Umina Beach on the NSW Central Coast on June 11, 2020 after a severe storm.
Initial forensic examination revealed that the jaw belonged to a boy as young as 15 years old, who experts believed had died about a decade earlier.
A blackened human jaw found on an Australian beach nearly three years ago is now believed to belong to a 15-year-old boy who drowned with his father in a boating accident in 1940. Police hope they can match the jaw to Ronald Montgomery
Donald Maxwell was on a fishing boat with his father Samuel (above) at Ettalong, near Umina, on Brisbane Water on July 29, 1940. Donald’s leg got caught in an anchor line and he went overboard. Samuel then dived in to rescue him, but father and son both drowned
Unusually for such a seemingly recent death, no missing persons report matched the discovery, no human remains found elsewhere matched the bone, and no grieving loved ones had ever emerged.
The story first appeared in an episode of the Inside the NSW Police Force podcast titled Lost At Sea: The Black Bone and hosted by journalist Adam Shand.
After Daily Mail Australia reported on the mystery early last year, acclaimed archaeologist Richard Wright contacted police and Shand with his theories about the find.
Wright achieved worldwide fame for his work excavating mass graves in Bosnia, which led to the prosecution of war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
He also led a team that began excavating and identifying 249 Australian and British remains buried on the World War I battlefield at Fromelles in northern France in 2009.
Wright told police the color of the lower jaw suggested it might have been encased in peat, a dark, soil-like substance formed by the partial decomposition of plant matter.
After Daily Mail Australia reported on the mystery early last year, acclaimed archaeologist Richard Wright contacted police with his theories about the find. Wright gained worldwide fame for excavating mass graves in Bosnia and excavating remains of World War I Diggers
He believed the jaw might have been preserved in an underwater layer of peat that had been disturbed by dredging and then washed up on shore.
The significance of that observation was that the jaw could have come from a person who died decades earlier than originally thought.
After ruling out every missing person in the region since 1948, Wright discovered an extraordinary newspaper clipping from 1940.
On July 29 of that year, 15-year-old Donald Maxwell was on a fishing boat with his father Samuel when they attempted to moor the vessel at Ettalong, near Umina, on Brisbane Water.
Donald’s leg got caught in an anchor line and he went overboard. Samuel then dived in to rescue him, but father and son both drowned.
While the body of Samuel, a 47-year-old widower and railway draftsman, was quickly recovered, Donald’s remains were never found.
Shand says, “Everything seems to fit: Donald’s age, the location of the incident, the proximity of where the bone was found on the beach.”
Researchers originally set out to find out where the jaw came from, how it ended up on Umina Beach, and why it was so well preserved.
The jaw was found near the entrance to Ocean Beach Caravan Park and about 200 meters south of the Umina Beach Surf Club. This photo was taken by Toyah Evans who found the bone
If it’s from Donald Montgomery, all those questions will be answered soon.
Apart from the dark color of the jaw, it was noticeable that there was no bone damage.
Police searched for sand or soil around Umina Beach that might have blackened the jaw, but no significant deposits of such matter were found.
Wright directed investigators to go through the municipal records to see if peat had been dredged from the ocean floor in recent decades.
A former local beach manager revealed that there were indeed peat deposits near where Donald lost his life and that the area was regularly dredged.
In the latest episode of Lost At Sea: The Black Bone, released Tuesday, Wright suggests that the jawbone became lodged in disturbed peat sometime after Donald’s death.
“It’s probably mixed with dredging peat that hadn’t really moved to the surface and was later exposed to the current action and washed up on the beach,” he tells Shand.
Wright, a longtime professor emeritus at the University of Sydney, compares the blackness of the jawbone to animal remains found in peat bogs in Ireland.
“It’s in remarkably good shape,” he tells Shand. “If it’s in peat, it won’t be abraded.
Umina Beach had been almost empty and the tide was receding when Torah Evans and her mother found themselves among the rubbish washed up by a recent storm. The pair immediately realized the significance of their discovery and took the bone to the police. Umina Beach is pictured
‘Abrasion is the thing that destroys bone in those kinds of sea conditions and this has not undergone abrasion.
‘But if it’s been in the peat for 80 years, it’s just lying there peacefully and unharmed. So I think yes, it could very well be from someone who died 80 years ago under the circumstances I’m proposing.”
It was dentist and forensic odontologist Dr. Phil Kendall who first determined that the jaw came from someone around 15 years old.
Kendall believes the bone probably came from Donald Montgomery. “It’s too much of a coincidence,” he tells Shand.
Sergeant Donna Bruce says in the podcast, “Every line of inquiry leads us to believe it’s Donald.”
Police have now located a living relative of Samuel – 81-year-old Edmund Ironside from Pennant Hills in Sydney. Ironside’s mother was Donald’s cousin.
“We’re thrilled if you’ve actually found something,” Ironside tells Shand in the podcast.
“I know the family never knew what happened to Donald. The last we heard he went under the side of a dinghy and his father dived after him . . . and he drowned too.’
A DNA sample from another female relative has been sent to the United States for examination with the lower jaw, and results are expected soon.
Lost at Sea: The Black Bone Part 4 can be listened to for free through Apple podcasts here or on Spotify. The new episode will be available from April 18.
A DNA sample from a female relative of Donald Montgomery has been sent to the United States along with the lower jaw for testing and results are expected soon. Umina Beach is pictured