As Fort Myers police try to identify the victims whose remains were found in a wooded area off Arcadia Street on March 23, they’re hoping information gathered by a forensic anthropologist and forensic dentist will help.
The remains are all those of white men between 18 and 49, said Heather Walsh-Haney, a forensic anthropologist from Florida Gulf Coast University, who police called into the case.
Here’s descriptors family members might recognize:
Individual No. 1
Age: Late 20s to early 40s, height 5 feet 2 inches to 5 feet 7 inches; in life he had sustained injuries to his legs, forearm and chest. He has three wisdom teeth and has not had current dental care. He could have lived a transient lifestyle.
Individual No. 2
Age: 20s to 30s, height 5 feet 6 inches to 6 feet.
This person had healed fractures to his right fibula, nose and collarbone. He does not have wisdom teeth and he may have had braces.
Individual No. 3
Age: 20s to 30s, height 5 feet 7 inches to 6 feet 3 inches, very good dental care with all four wisdom teeth.
Individual No. 4
Age: 20s to 30s, height 5 feet 5 inches to 5 feet 11 inches, with some dental fillings and all four wisdom teeth intact.
Individual No. 5
Age: 18 to early 20s, height 5 feet 10 inches to 6 feet 4 inches, excellent dental care. One of this individual’s wisdom teeth was removed. The other three remain.
Individual No. 6
Age: late 20s to early 40s, height 5 feet 5 inches to 5 feet 11 inches. This individual could have complained of hip or back problems. All four wisdom teeth are present and there are dental fillings in other teeth.
Individual No. 7
White man, possibly Hispanic, age 20s to 30s, height 5 feet 11 inches to 6 feet 3 inches. This individual still has all four wisdom teeth. He fractured his right wrist in life.
Individual No. 8
Age: 20s to 30s, height 5 feet 6 inches to 6 feet, with good dental work and all four wisdom teeth intact. He might have been an athlete, weightlifter, or had a job that required heavy lifting.
An examination of previous X-rays of injuries and dental charts could identify the remains, police said.
Anyone with information can call police at (877) 667-1296, or (239) 339-4008. Messages can also be sent to email@example.com
The skeletal remains found in Fort Myers in March may have been those of men who died as the result of criminal activity between 1980 and 2000.
But having said that, Fort Myers police Chief Hilton Daniels on Friday said no cause of death had been determined for any of the victims.
The remains, found March 23 off Arcadia Street, were all white men between 18 and 49, said Heather Walsh-Haney, a forensic anthropologist from Florida Gulf Coast University who examined them.
If a serial killer is responsible — and police have not ruled that out — he or she has not used the dump site for years, according to Haney-Walsh’s estimate of the bones’ ages.
“We do not believe there is any immediate danger to the community,’’ Detective Sgt. Jennifer Soto said. “If we find something that changes that we’ll let you know.”
The question of how the bodies got there remains unanswered.
“It has all the signs of a dump spot,” said Charlie Mesloh, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Florida Gulf Coast University and a former police officer. “You have proximity to I-75 and a secluded area.”
Bill Hayes, author of a Death Row reference book, said he believed a serial killer was likely responsible for the remains.
“Because of the area where they were found and the number of bodies, you almost automatically assume that,” Hayes said. “When you add the similarity of gender, the business of race and the proximity in ages, it is almost the only possibility.”
Police would not discuss details of any post or near-mortem trauma to the remains but described past injuries the individuals had suffered in the hopes it could help to identify them.
The remains attracted national attention when they were discovered by an ecologist surveying the wooded tract for development.
Police initially found three skeletons, but searchers later found five others, all within a 50-yard radius, during a grid search.
Theories ranged from someone who had used the site for the improper disposal of remains to a serial killer’s dump site.
Now they’re tilting toward homicide.
“I think we have been treating this as a criminal matter since the beginning,” said Shelly Flynn, a police department spokeswoman. “Any time you have eight bodies found in close proximity it indicates criminal activity.”
Police believe it is significant the remains are all men with similar physical characteristics, but Daniels cautioned against reading too much into that.
“Right now we have to identify these remains,” he said. “Then we’ll be able to get a better idea of how they died.”
The initial examination of the remains did not show outward signs of foul play, Fort Myers police Lt. Brian Phillips said.
Likewise, weeks of digging and sifting the spots where bones were recovered did not result in conclusive findings, Phillips said.
Crime scene technicians had hoped the dirt underneath the remains might have revealed spent bullets or remnants of items used to strangle the deceased if the bodies had been homicide victims. That didn't happen, police said.
The absence of clothing on the remains also was equivocal, authorities said. Clothing could be removed to make identification of a murder victim more difficult, but it also could be done because the bodies had been held in a morgue before being dropped in the woods.
Identification of the victims will be a priority because once police know who they are authorities can look for links between the victims, similar lifestyles or hangouts, detectives said.
“After that we can move forward with a theory,” Daniels said. “We have a lot of theories right now. We have not ruled out a funeral home having dumped these bodies and we have not ruled out a serial killer. After we identify these people we’ll have a better idea.”
Soto said police will not discuss how they believe the victims died in order to “maintain the integrity of the investigation.”
Most of the remains were in good dental and skeletal health at time of death, the experts said.
Police said there has been a flurry of calls from people wondering if the remains might belong to someone they know.
“We probably won’t have a good handle on the extent of the calls until after the weekend,” Flynn said. “By that time the word will have gotten out.”