It was a strange sight for the small town of Danby last February. A crew of Vermont State Police detectives scouring a stretch of road after a skull was found on an embankment.
But the search turned up nothing. "We weren't able to discover any other human bones. Take from that what you can, so that leads you to believe either animals brought the skull there or humans placed it there," said Vermont State Police Lt. Tim Oliver.
At the time of the search, police said the skull was spotted by a passerby who then called authorities. But that was only partially true. The person who spotted the skull thought at first that it was deer antlers. "He picked them up, saw it was probably a human skull and he did end up taking it home," Lt. Oliver said.
It wasn't until days later that the person decided to call police. Days where weather and animals could have changed the landscape where the skull was found, making the chances of finding more evidence in surrounding soil slim.
"It would have been better if we found it in place and then we could have done the excavating as is, but we don't have that luxury," Lt. Oliver said.
Police say they believe the person is telling the truth about where the skull was found, but due in part to the skull being moved, they have no idea how long it had been on Danby Hill Road. To them, it's still a complete mystery. "You don't know if it's been there for 10 years, 15 years, 5 days -- It's hard to determining that," Lt. Oliver said.
They also can't say for sure how long ago the woman died, but did say it probably happened some time ago -- years, maybe even decades. The skull was sent to the medical examiner for further testing to try and determine a timeline.
"Of all the things that we could recover, I would hope to recover a skull. So the amount of things that we can glean from a skull is extremely helpful versus maybe just a leg bone or something like that," said Lt. J.P. Sinclair, the Commander of the State Police Crime Scene Search Team.
Through CT scans and a dental examination, the skull was found to have features commonly associated with a young, white woman. Something not common -- the presence of trauma on the skull.
"We want the public to know that this wasn't just a discarded skull that's in pristine shape," Lt. Oliver said. "It appears something occurred. Could it have caused the death of this person? Absolutely."
A traumatic death of a woman just coming of age, but who is she? Police say the remains lacked one key piece of evidence needed to make a positive identification: DNA.
"You're dealing with skeletal remains. So there's not -- everything is very dry," Lt. Sinclair said.
With no hair, skin or saliva to test, police soon found themselves at a road block.
"Nobody feels good about having an open case of this nature. Someone's missing apparently, so we want to exhaust every single avenue we have to try to put closure to this case," Lt. Oliver said.
Police say the entire case hinges on making a positive identification through DNA. With unsuccessful results at their own labs, police have sent the skull to a specialized lab in Texas for further testing.
Tuesday we'll take a look at how this high tech mid west lab, might produce the missing link needed to bring some answers to this mysterious possible murder.
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