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Tue, Feb. 18

County to investigate mysterious death
Investigation continues on body found north of Williams last month

Detectives with the Coconino County Sheriff's Office are continuing their investigation into the death of a possible Native American male discovered north of Williams Oct. 26. The partially mummified remains, found hanging from a juniper tree near the natural gas pipeline by horseback riders, are thought to be that of a male between the age of 22-25-years-of age. No identification was found on the body, which investigators believe may have been in the area for roughly six months prior to its discovery.

Det. Larry Thomas, with the Coconino County Sheriff's Department in Flagstaff, said an investigation into the case is ongoing. An autopsy on the remains was held Oct. 27.

After an initial investigation into the matter, county officials discovered a GPS mapping error in regards to the body's location, which placed the investigation within the jurisdiction of the Williams Police Department. Williams' authorities, however, subsequently handed the case back to the county, citing the fact that county investigators had already removed the body to Flagstaff and collected evidence at the scene. Williams' investigators have said they would help the investigation in whatever way they could.

"I was asked if I would continue to work on it," Thomas said. "Suicides are not uncommon, but given the location and the method, you want to know the proverbial rest of the story and when they're a John Doe, you don't even know where to begin."

Thomas said he recently reviewed WPD records in an effort to identify possible missing persons in the Williams area. He also reviewed reports of transients, though neither offered any possible leads in identifying the remains.

"We're basically trying to cover every viable aspect we have to identify this person," Thomas said. "We're hoping that our DNA provides us a possible lead. We're also hoping the fingerprints come back. The medical examiner was actually able to obtain fingerprints off the body and we sent that off to the FBI. We think, but we haven't confirmed, that there is a high probability that the person is Native American, but we're not 100 percent."

Detectives recently submitted muscle tissue and bone tissue to the DPS crime lab, which handles cases for all of northern Arizona, in the hopes that forensics experts can extract enough DNA from the remains. The process, Thomas said, could take months.

"DNA degrades," Thomas said. "It's just like prints, there are so many points you need. You might not get good enough DNA to get a positive identification either."

DNA, Thomas said, will be entered into a national database in the hopes that a match can be found should enough DNA be pulled from the remains for a complete record. Other methods are also being utilized to help identify the body, Thomas said.

"The other thing we have done is (that) a dentist here in Flagstaff has forensically charted the teeth from the body," he said, adding that the dental records are also entered into a nationwide database.

"Those are not as likely to get a hit, that would mean somebody would already have a chart existing," Thomas said.

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