North Naples Walmart
NAPLES — A simple strand of rosary beads may be the clue that leads Collier County sheriff’s investigators to the identity of a person whose skeletal remains were discovered this week in a heavily-wooded area off Immokalee Road in North Naples.
The bones were discovered just before 5 p.m. Wednesday by a homeless man, identified in an incident report as John Loyd, 28, in a densely vegetated preserve between Livingston Road and Interstate 75.
The rosary was discovered near the bones, which appeared to have been there for a long time and had been scattered, said Capt. Chris Roberts of the Sheriff’s Office’s Special Investigations Division. The wooded area appeared to have been used as a campground by homeless people, Roberts said, although the skeleton was in a place that would not have been easily accessible.
The rosary was made of dark, plastic beads with a crucifix and a Christian medallion that appears to show a rusted-out image of the Virgin Mary.
“If someone were to recognize that and give us a potential person who it was, we may be able to identify that person rather quickly,” Roberts said.
However, recent history shows that identifying skeletal remains tends to take weeks, if not months. Some skeletal remains, including a skeleton dug up by surveyors in 2003 near the site of Wednesday’s discovery, remain unidentified years later.
“It could very well take months to a year. Every case is different,” said Maj. Jim Jones of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office’s Criminal Investigation Bureau. “It depends on what they have, what they’re looking at.”
The unidentified remains from 2003 were found at the site of the Walmart off Juliet Boulevard. A second skeleton, later identified as the remains of Sergio Guerrero, 44, was found at the same location, although Roberts said there is no evidence other than burial location linking the two. Guerrero was shot to death.
The skeleton of a woman discovered near Collier Boulevard in 2004 has also yet to be identified.
In early July 2010, a teenage boy in San Carlos Park stumbled upon skeletal remains in a wooded area near the intersection of Winged Foot Drive and Three Oaks Parkway. Seven months later, the remains still have not been positively identified, and the investigation is still active.
“We have a very good possibility of who it might be, but we’re waiting for confirmation through DNA,” Jones said.
In 2007, eight skeletons were found buried off a rural road in Fort Myers, and were nicknamed the “Fort Myers Eight.” Nearly four years later, five remain unidentified.
Investigators are meticulous at scenes with skeletal remains, authorities said, which is why deputies were still working at the scene of Wednesday’s discovery on Friday. Manfred Borges of the Collier County Medical Examiner’s Office and Heather Walsh-Haney, a forensic anthropologist who teaches at Florida Gulf Coast University, were called to the scene to examine the bones.
The skeletal remains were taken to the Collier County Medical Examiner’s Office on Friday, where they will be further analyzed.
Walsh-Haney and Borges declined to comment on the specifics of the ongoing investigation, but agreed to speak generally about their roles in identifying remains.
“The first thing I need to know is the context,” Walsh-Haney said of being at a scene. “Is this the primary location? Is this where the death may have occurred, or is this a secondary site where remains may have been dumped?”
At the scene, Walsh-Haney said she’s also looking at the placement of the skeleton, which may give indications of how the person died. For instance, if the arms are behind the back, it may be evidence that the person was bound, even if the rope or cord has decomposed.
They’re also looking for tissue on the bones, which would indicate they hadn’t been there long, and vegetation growing through the bones, which would indicate that they had, Borges said.
At the Medical Examiner’s Office, the bones are X-rayed, measured and photographed, Borges said. Those measurements can help establish the person’s height, weight, sex and even race and ethnicity. The X-rays can show bone breaks, stab wounds and projectiles that may indicate how the person died.
“It’s a laborious, very detail-oriented process,” Borges said.
If the body is found with a driver license or another form of picture identification, Walsh-Haney said she can determine if the remains are consistent with the biological indicators listed on the license. She can superimpose a picture of the skull over the suspected person’s photograph.
“I would look at whether the ear holes line up, the bottom and top of the nose, the eye sockets and the teeth,” she said. “All of that information can help us exclude someone.”
The information gathered at the Medical Examiner’s Office is entered into state and national databases — including the Florida Unidentified Decedents Database, which is maintained by the Collier Medical Examiner’s Office — looking for matches.
“It sometimes takes weeks to months,” Walsh-Haney said. “It just depends on each case.”
Anyone with information is asked to call the Collier County Sheriff’s Office at 252-9300, or if you wish to remain anonymous call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-780- TIPS (8477).