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More skull fragments discovered in excavation

| Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2002

Excavation Tuesday turned up more human skull fragments in a wooded area in Cranberry where pieces of a woman's skull were found last week.

Dennis Dirkmaat, a forensic anthropologist from Mercyhurst College in Erie, and seven of his students spent much of the day working in the area off Ehrman Road. A man looking for old bottles found pieces of the top and back of the skull Nov. 17.

The pieces found yesterday were from the back of the skull, said state Trooper Cheryl Michalski, a state police spokeswoman.

In the first few hours of work yesterday, it became clear that the fragments had been placed there and that the area once had served as a dump site for a rural homestead, according to Dirkmaat.

"The skull, at least, was put into that dump," Dirkmaat said. "Somebody left that skull."

Dirkmaat said the skull was that of a woman between 25 and 60 years old at the time of her death. He had hoped to find facial bones, which could have yielded vital clues about the woman's race and appearance along with a more precise age and other characteristics. Other bone fragments, Dirkmaat has said, could help investigators determine the cause of death.

"We're finding a lot, but the thing we're looking for is other human remains," Dirkmaat said.

The group worked from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., turning up animal bones and other debris and taking advantage of loose ground that helped speed up the effort. No further excavation is planned, Michalski said.

State police are researching the history of the site, but Michalski said more needs to be learned about the fragments before a deeper investigation can proceed.

"There's a lot of things we need to learn from (Dirkmaat) right now," she said. "Just because we found a skull, everybody seems to jump to the conclusion that it was homicide or something of that nature. It is not uncommon for a body to come to the surface. There's a lot of variables we have to look at right now."

The fact that the area once served as a rural dump, is deeply wooded and on a steep hillside indicates it was not a burial site, Dirkmaat said.

"It's littered with bottles and old leather and animal bones," Dirkmaat said. "It's a classic farm dump."

Fractures in the skull fragments found last week could be indicators of the cause of death, Dirkmaat said. The fractures, he said, also could have occurred naturally during the five- to 50-year period he estimates the bones were in the ground. The skull was in one piece, which broke into two when it was pulled from the ground, Dirkmaat said.

Dirkmaat said a DNA sample could be obtained from the bones already found, but it wouldn't be much help unless researchers knew who they were trying to match.

Michalski said police will not begin looking at missing persons reports until more is known about the skull.

Steve Mannell, director of public safety for Cranberry, said the property is owned by a company that plans a residential development for the site.

State police are being assisted in the investigation by Cranberry police and the Butler County District Attorney's Office.

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