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Skeleton discovered in Cranberry offers no clear clues

| Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A mystery surrounding skeletal remains found in Cranberry is unlikely to be solved quickly.

Forensic scientists studying the unidentified human remains don't expect to reach any conclusions for a week or more.

Dennis C. Dirkmaat, a forensic anthropologist with Mercyhurst University in Erie, said on Sunday that his team first must thaw the remains found by a passer-by in woods along Dutilh Road near UPMC Passavant Cranberry.

That step might take a day or two, he said, and then the scientists can document clothing and other evidence and perform tests.

Investigators believe the remains are of a man. Police said the remains were not buried and had been there for some time. The cause of death was not immediately apparent.

The Mercyhurst team plans to build a biological profile of the person, noting age, sex, stature and ancestry as well as characteristics such as previously broken bones or unique skeletal features, Dirkmaat said.

Researchers will check for trauma around the time of death and then put the evidence together to reconstruct events surrounding the death.

“That all takes time,” Dirkmaat wrote in an email to the Trib. Dirkmaat, who is chairman of the university's applied forensic sciences department, said his team is due at a conference this week and will continue studying the remains on Saturday after they return.

Dirkmaat and a Mercyhurst team have investigated several Western Pennsylvania deaths, including the case of Somerset County man accused of killing his girlfriend and burying her remains in deep woods. Last year, the team investigated a case in which a Butler County man is accused of killing his wealthy father and stepmother, then dismembering and burning the bodies before scattering the remains in a pond and around two barrels on the family's 25-acre property.

Cranberry police have said they have no active missing-persons cases.

At the end of 2011, the National Crime Information Center's missing person file had 85,158 active records, with people 20 and younger accounting for 55 percent of them.

Kim Leonard is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5606 or kleonard@tribweb.com.

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