Autopsy on human remains inconclusive

May 21, 2009 8:52:31 PM PDT
Divers with the Illinois State Police were back in the water, searching for more clues one day after human remains were found along the Des Plaines River.A river cleanup crew discovered the remains on Wednesday afternoon in Channahon along the Des Plaines River.

There were more than just bones found on the riverbank. What was left of the corpse was inside a pair of shredded jeans. There was even a small amount of money, presumably in a pocket. And on Wednesday night an expert in the field tells us all of this information is likely already helping investigators understand more about who they found.

Whoever he or she was, they've been dead for at least several months. That's the conclusion of the Will County Coroner who says ultimately DNA may hold the key to unlocking the person's identity. But the bones themselves can also yield clues about everything from a person's age to health history.

"It's kind of surprising the amount of information that can be gleaned just from skeletal information alone," said Dr. Anne Grauer, forensic anthropologist.

There's not much to work with.

ABC7 learned on Thursday the partial skeletal remains consist only of a rib cage, spinal column and parts of the left and right femur bones. The coroner says the remains do not include a head, arms or legs below the knees.

Among the questions the coroner is still working to answer: Were the body parts severed before or after death? If the answer is after, was it done intentionally to conceal person's identity or naturally by the elements.

"When they picked up the body in the bag it couldn't have weighed more than 20 pounds, 15 pounds," said Ed Maida, boat owner.

"There's a good chance that they're going to be carefully looking over each bone and all the material for signs of trauma, whether there was trauma healed prior to the person's death. Whether there was trauma that might have occurred around the time of the person's death," said Dr. Grauer.

Late Thursday, Illinois State Police suspended their search for further clues in and around the Des Plaines. They won't say if they found anything new.

"I'm not going to comment on the specifics of our search efforts but rest assured it's going to be a thorough job," said Master Sgt. Tom Burek, Illinois State Police.

The Will County coroner says the autopsy did not conclusively reveal the person's approximate age, gender or ethnicity. He'll now rely on DNA testing at the state police crime lab. Those results are due back within about two weeks.

The Discovery

The badly decomposed body was discovered by a river cleanup crew on Wednesday afternoon. They called police and moments later dozens of investigators converged on the scene and began scouring for clues near the remains.

"They said they would switch their effort to shoreline efforts on the floor. They did and here we are four days later and they found something. Hopefully someone's family can get some closure here," said the owner of a nearby river bar.

The Blue Barrel

A blue barrel was spotted Sunday along the Des Plaines River just about a mile downstream from the remains.

It is not clear if that blue barrel has anything to do with the remains, but the discovery comes into play because the stepbrother of Drew Peterson -- who is a person of interest in the disappearance of his wife, Stacy -- said he helped Drew remove a blue barrel from the family's Bolingbrook home after Stacy disappeared. He has told police he fears Stacy's body was inside.

"A blue barrel in a river around here is kind of something I would think people would want to know about, especially the police," said Michelle Williams, who saw the blue barrel and called officials.

The state police have searched for and found blue barrels on several different occasions, but none has actually been linked to the case.


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