NORTH COLLINS, NY – When police were summoned to the discovery of human remains in a town park over the weekend, and needed help to begin the process of identifying the deceased, they knew just who to call.
Dr. Dennis Dirkmaat, a noted forensic anthropologist from Mercyhurst University in Erie Pennsylvania, and his team of ten graduate students soon made the hour and a half long drive north.
The body of a large male, believed to have been deceased for at least ten years, was discovered Saturday by hikers in some woods near Marion J. Fricano Town Park on Saturday morning.
They came upon what appeared to be a boot sticking out of the ground and called police.
Dirkmaat has more than 300 cases to his credit, including work on the crash of flight 3407 and United Flight 93 after the September 11th terror attacks.
While each case is different, many of the same principles of forensic anthropology apply, according to Dirkmaat, who indicated to WGRZ-TV investigators will have a good deal of information to go on as they try and solve the mystery of who the man is and how he died.
“It took us basically 7-8 hours to excavate the shallow grave and we have the maximum amount of information that will help figure out who this is and how long ago this occurred and maybe the eventual prosecution of someone," Dirkmaat said.
“We photo documented the scene and everything that we removed from the grave we did so by sifting it through quarter inch mesh sieves, much like you might imagine archeologists on a dig site. And then we gathered it carefully so as to maintain the chain of evidence and so forth to be sent to the medical examiner for further analysis.”
In an outdoor scene, scientists have to account for the possibility that animals may have disturbed the remains over time, scattering parts – and therefore vital clues -- to other places.
However, Dirkmaat indicated that did not appear to be the case here.
"Obviously that was considered, but once we excavated and saw things, we were able to do an inventory of what we had, and it was clear this wasn’t a partial burial with the rest out in the woods. We got everything in the grave there,” he said.
Though the work of his team will be critical in eventually identifying the person, and he will assist however asked, the task of actually making the identification may not belong to Dirkmaat.
“As we excavate, we're not rifling through the pockets of the person. Our role was to recover the remains, and secure them for the next step, which will be the laboratory analysis forensic materials,” he said.