Human skull discovery may be missing man from December 2021, sheriff says

The skull was discovered by someone walking along the shore of Center Hill Lake Thursday afternoon.
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 11:24 AM CDT
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SMITHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Forensic anthropologists are working to determine if a human skull discovered last week belongs to a man who has been missing since December 2021.

According to DeKalb County Sheriff Patrick Ray, a person walking along the shore of Center Hill Lake on Thursday, March 9, spotted what appeared to be a human skull lodged into a fallen tree on the side of a steep bluff, roughly 50 yards from the water. A team of anthropologists from Middle Tennessee State University examined the skull and confirmed it to be human.

The skull was discovered just 1.6 miles from where Matthew Braswell was last seen on Dec. 17, 2021.

Braswell, who was 29 years old at the time, was in a Chevy Tahoe with 26-year-old Danny Phillips of McMinnville when they were spotted by a resident going through his mailbox on Ponder Road that morning, Ray said. The resident came out of his home to confront them, prompting Phillips to speed away.

He lost control of the vehicle and crashed into several trees at the end of the road.

Both men exited the Tahoe and fled into the woods, Ray said. Phillips was quickly captured, but Braswell got away and has not been seen since, despite lengthy aerial and ground searches by K-9 units and helicopter units with the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Only his white and gray hoodie was found in the woods near the Burton-Ponder Cemetery, the sheriff said.

Due to the proximity of the skull discovery to the December 2021 crash, the sheriff said there is a strong possibility the skull is that of Braswell. His family has been notified of the discovery.

“He (Braswell) is the only missing person that we have a report on anywhere near this area,” Sheriff Ray said. “Braswell did have active warrants against him at the time, and he was aware of those warrants with an attitude to avoid law enforcement.”

The District Attorney’s Office along with the Tennessee Highway Patrol assisted the DeKalb Sheriff’s Department in the investigation.