People riding their ATV’s found human remains Monday night about a mile-and-a-half up Whitewater Caynon. The decomposing body was found partially buried in a shallow grave. Homicide detectives with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department haven’t identified the remains because it’s too decomposed to determine the age, sex or cause of death. It’s a problem the Coroner’s office encounters often, especially in the open desert.
“[It’s difficult to identify the body] because of the heat…it [also] gets cool at night and out here in the desert we also have animal activity,” says Sgt. Tony Greer with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. “We can’t determine if we’ve had any animal activity at this point but it’s always a concern.”
Once the coroner is on scene, he or she must determine if the remains are from a Native American burial site or animal bones. If not, the coroner will take pictures and make sketches of the scene, then sift through the evidence.
“If we don’t know ifit’s a homicide, we’ll initially assume it’s a homicide because we only have one crack at processing a scene. So, everything is very slow and very methodical,” says Lt. Scot Collins with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
Depending on how decomposed the body is, coroners at the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department can identify a body in a few hours or a few days depending on their methods. The investigation may depend on a forensic anthropologist who tell a lot about the remains from the bones.
“A good forensic anthropologist will be able to take a look at the bones and tell a lot about the gender and the age, height and weight of the individual,” says Lt. Collins.
The forensic teams first take full body X-rays. Then, if they still can’t identify the remains, they look at the teeth. As a last resort, investigators will take DNA samples to the Department of Justice to cross-check the missing persons database. Investigators looking into this recent discovery hope it won’t come to that.
This is the second such discovery in over a week in the Desert. Deputies were called to human bones found in an unincorporated area of Desert Hot Springs last Monday morning.
The bones were transported to the Coroner’s Office where examiners found that the bones were from a man who was 18 years or older at the time of his death. Medical examiners also say the remains were at that location for anywhere from five to 50 years.