Philip Kahn didn’t tell anyone where he was going in July 2000 when he walked out of his Las Vegas home, hitched a ride to the airport and boarded a flight.

Just like that, the retired 84-year-old cab driver was gone without a trace.

Philip and Jean Kahn Courtesy of Judy Drago

For nearly 23 years, his family wondered what happened to the friendly man who enjoyed dancing with his wife and two-for-one meals at the casinos. They came to terms with the likelihood that he wasn’t coming back. Years later, when he would have been approaching 100, they accepted he had probably died.

What they didn’t know was that within a month of his disappearance – and 3,000 miles away – a body was pulled from the Atlantic Ocean 27 miles off the coast of Maine.

Those two dots were finally connected this month when the Maine Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and FBI identified the remains as Kahn’s.

The news came as a surprise to his surviving family. It also raised questions they know they’ll never be able to answer: How did Kahn end up near Maine, where he had no apparent connections? Why was he in the water? How did he die?


“There are many more questions we’ll never know the answers to,” said Kahn’s step-daughter, Judy Drago, who reported him missing. “We call him our mystery man.”

Kahn’s identification was part of the ongoing effort to identify all 27 people whose unclaimed remains have been brought to the medical examiner’s office. With little information to go on, those cases can take years to solve and often rely on new techniques like forensic genealogy or advances in fingerprint and DNA technology.

“We are thrilled that we’ve been able to give him his name and let the family know what happened to their loved one,” Lindsey Chasteen, administrator for the medical examiner’s office, said after Kahn’s identity was announced.


Kahn was originally from New York, though Drago doesn’t know much about his early years. Not wanting to be a burden on his family during the Great Depression, he left home to ride the rails. At some point, he changed his last name from Erlichman because he didn’t want to bring shame to his family for not having money, Drago said.

Kahn loved warm weather and lived for a time in Florida before settling in Las Vegas, where he worked as a cab driver. He stood nearly 6 feet, 6 inches tall, and the other cab drivers called him “Stretch.” He never had children of his own.


In his 60s, Kahn met Jean Oliver, a preschool teacher who had earned her college degree in her 50s. Their romance started at the neighborhood pool, where they each liked to spend time. They had both lost spouses and were drawn to each other, Drago said.

“They were a perfect match,” she said. “They were both lonely and they found each other.”

They lived in the Pleasant Valley mobile home community and enjoyed going on cruises and out to dinner. They took dance lessons and went to big-band dance nights at the local casinos.

For fun and to earn a bit of extra money, they appeared as extras in movies filmed in Las Vegas, including Rain Man in 1988. As stars Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise walk off an escalator, Kahn and his wife step on the other side to go up.

Kahn enjoyed being around family and friends, Drago remembers, and was “always laughing, always talking.”

As he aged, Kahn grappled with health problems, including emphysema, cardiac hypertrophy and nephrosclerosis, but his family did not believe he had signs of dementia or was suicidal. He was hesitant to go in for surgery for one of his health conditions and instead decided to go out of state for holistic treatment, but they didn’t know exactly where.


“He said he would call when he got there, but he never did,” Drago said.

Twelve days after a neighbor drove Kahn to the airport on the evening of July 9 – and with no word on where he might be — Drago reported him missing to Las Vegas Metropolitan Police. Her mother was too upset to make the report. By then, they knew that Kahn had liquidated his assets, sent a letter and some money to his sister and gave power of attorney to his wife.

Kahn had a new credit card with him, but his wife didn’t know the card number and wasn’t able to check to see if it had been used. She later learned Kahn paid $162 for his plane ticket. Detectives confirmed his flight was to New York.

That’s where the trail ended.

“He was such a mild-mannered guy,” Drago said. “To see him disappear was confusing.”



On July 24, 2000, boaters 27 miles off the coast of Jonesport, near Grand Manan Bank, spotted the partially skeletonized remains of a man in the water. He was wearing a blue knit shirt, a pullover and a digital watch, but there were no clues to easily lead the medical examiner’s office to an identification.

Two days after the body was found, a Las Vegas police officer noted in Kahn’s missing-person report that it appeared Kahn was in Florida, but leads were exhausted. The family said they thought Kahn may have gone to Coral Gables, Florida, for treatment.

His missing-person entry in the National Crime Information Center would remain active, according to the report.

Back in Maine, an autopsy confirmed that the man, believed at the time to be in his 60s, had chronic health conditions. The medical examiner was unable to determine a cause of death and early attempts to identify him through DNA and fingerprints were unsuccessful. The man’s unclaimed remains were cremated and interred.

In 2019, the medical examiner’s office tried again to identify Jonesport John Doe, this time through forensic genealogy. The office had used forensic genealogy to identify a man who died in 2014 and a baby whose 1985 death had gone unsolved for more than 36 years.

Again, there were no viable leads. The Jane Doe Project, which does research using DNA profiles, did not find any relatives through genealogy databases.


But there were some new clues. The testing revealed he was Ashkenazi Jewish, tall with a thin build and possibly was a pipe smoker.

The medical examiner’s office tried again last March when staff met with the FBI’s Deceased Persons Identification Services Division. This time, fingerprints and dental records were matched to Kahn.

Chasteen, from the medical examiner’s office, said finally identifying him was exhilarating, just as it is every time they are able to reunite a family with their deceased loved one.

“To be able to say this is who he is and notify a family member reminds us why we go down that road, and reminds us that you can’t forget about these cases,” she said. “It might be a long road, but there’s always hope.”

Drago, 81, was notified earlier this month by Las Vegas police about the fate of her stepfather. She and her two brothers were surprised to find out he had been found within weeks of his disappearance and more than 3,000 miles from home.

All of this new information made Drago think of her mother, who died in 2007 at age 89 without knowing what happened to her husband. After he left, Jean Kahn was at times sad and angry, but she was an incredible woman who took comfort in her family, friends and church, Drago said.

“She realized he was not coming back and she just went on with life,” she said.

Drago recently spoke with someone from the medical examiner’s office who described how Kahn’s remains were buried near the flagpoles at Gracelawn Memorial Park in Auburn. The family has decided not to move him.

“We’re glad he was found,” she said. “We’ll let him rest in peace.”

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