More bones found in West Chester woods

Forensic expert says it could be a week before a biological profile is developed

“The skeletal remains have now been recovered and are being analyzed to develop a biological profile, which will include race, sex and approximate age and height,” said Butler County Coroner Lisa Mannix in a statement issued this afternoon. “West Chester Police Department, members of the Butler County Emergency Management Agency and Community Response Teams of Butler County and the city of Monroe assisted in the search.”

The coroner’s office unearthed additional remains Monday, but on a rainy, overcast Tuesday, investigators did not venture to the site to make a sweep for more remains, according to Martin Schneider, administrator for the coroner’s office.

One of the people unearthing that additional evidence alongside Butler County Coroner Dr. Lisa Mannix and three coroner’s office investigators has been Dr. Elizabeth Murray, a forensic anthropologist from Mount St. Joseph University and one of only approximately 60 board-certified forensic anthropologists in North America.

“She’s an expert,” Schneider said. “She’s done these kinds of cases before and knows everything to look for.”

Murray has assisted in both forensic and historic skeletal investigations on the local, regional, national and international levels since 1986, work that Schneider said also included assisting the Butler County Coroner’s Office on several occasions.

In 1998, Murray worked with Middletown police and the Butler County Sheriff’s Office to identify a human torso found on the bank of the Great Miami River in Hamilton as the remains of a missing Middletown woman, Cheryl Durkin. James Lawson of Middletown is now serving a prison sentence for Durkin’s murder.

Murray said she could not speak specifically about the West Chester Twp. case but outlined what she does when examining skeletal remains that aids coroners and law enforcement.

A biological profile of the person is developed both by visual examination and by computer calculation of measurements, Murray said. When examining a full skeleton, Murray said she can take as many as 100 measurements that can help pinpoint the biological profile.

“It narrows down the field of possibilities,” Murray said, noting police agencies then know what records to pull of outstanding cases. Then adding in DNA testing and if possible dental records, “you start lighting up more and more data about who the person is and what might have occurred.”

Murray said she also looks for anything unique to the person which can further lead to identification.

It’ll take about a week to work up a preliminary biological profile, Murray said.

The identity of the person remains unknown at this time. An investigation into possible cause and manner of death is ongoing, as well as how long the remains have been outdoors, Schneider said.

Mannix and two of the coroner’s office’s three investigators were among the initial responders to the site Saturday afternoon, when three brothers found the skull while walking in the woods behind their Gregory Creek Lane home.

Police Chief Joel Herzog said all media inquiries regarding the case should be directed to the coroner’s office.

“They are the lead investigative agency with our assistance at this time,” Herzog said Tuesday.

Schneider said police may be waiting until the coroner’s office completes its investigation before they determine whether it’s warranted to conduct one of their own.

“Until it’s been determined that there is a crime committed or believe that there is a crime committed, the police are operating in a support role of the coroner’s office,” he said.

That support role includes police securing the scene to ensure no evidence is removed before it can been determined if it is part of the scene or debris that happened to be there, Schneider said.

Police investigators may be called upon to use their expertise to examine material at the scene, he said.

Mary Jo Bicknell, president of the West Chester/Union Twp. Historical Society, said although she could not immediately determine precisely what was located on the property where the skull was found, most of West Chester Twp. once was farmland and families often buried their loved ones on their own property.

The site of established cemeteries, both past and present, are miles away, making it unlikely the remains came from such a source.

“It could be a mystery that they’ll have on their hands for a while,” Bicknell said.

The case remains under investigation. Anyone with additional information is asked to call the coroner’s office at 785-5860 or police at 513-777-2231.

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