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Updated Apr 11, 2013 - 12:05 pm

Officials: Nebraska body ID'd as former Phoenix resident

NORTH PLATTE, Neb. -- A body found nearly a year ago in western Nebraska was that of a Wisconsin fugitive who'd been convicted of trying to produce a biological weapon, authorities said.

DNA samples and other evidence led investigators to conclude that the remains were those of 64-year-old Denys Ray Hughes, the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office said in a news release Thursday. Hughes was prosecuted in Phoenix and convicted of trying to produce a biological weapon and for possessing a pipe bomb and illegal gun silencers.

Hughes was being transferred by bus from a Colorado prison to a halfway house in Milwaukee when he disappeared in May 2011. Authorities believed he got off the bus somewhere in Nebraska.

The body was found April 20, 2012, on private land on the southern side of North Platte, along the South Platte River. Medical investigators said tests on the body showed the man probably died between November 2011 and February 2012. The cause of death was unclear, though Hughes had a handful of health problems.

Suspicions about Hughes were raised by a sheriff's deputy in Kansas who pulled over Hughes for a traffic violation in July 2005. Court documents said the deputy found evidence of bomb-making materials and a "to-do" list that included buying cannon fuse.

The Kansas authorities tipped off law enforcement in Arizona, where Hughes had an apartment in Phoenix. Authorities there found several castor bean plants, according to the documents. The beans can be used to make ricin, a poisonous protein.

A follow-up search of Hughes' home in Manitowish Waters, Wis., uncovered formulas for producing ricin and six bottles of castor beans.

Authorities said Hughes was working alone and was not a member of a terrorist organization.

Records showed that Hughes was sent a federal prison in Colorado to begin his 87-month sentence. In May 2011, he was put on a bus for his transfer to a halfway house in Milwaukee, but he didn't show up, according to the Nebraska sheriff's office. Authorities believed Hughes got off the bus somewhere along Interstate 80 in Nebraska.

A DNA sample from the body found in the area matched a record of convicted offenders maintained by the FBI.

"There is no official cause of death, but we do know there wasn't blunt trauma to the head," Lincoln County Sheriff's Sgt. John Davis told The North Platte Telegraph. "There weren't any fractures. It's probable that it was natural causes."

Hughes had a heart condition and was diabetic.

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