A badly decomposed corpse was found in the Des Plaines River near Chicago yesterday afternoon. It is in an area where the search for the body of Stacy Peterson had taken place earlier. This immediately raised speculation that this could be her remains or perhaps those of another high-profile missing person, Lisa Stebic. It could be either, or could be the body of some other unfortunate young lady. An autopsy is being performed today but that could take some time before the identity of the remains is released.
Interestingly, last Sunday, a blue barrel was found approximately a mile downstream from where the remains were located yesterday. This is important since Drew Peterson’s stepbrother Tom Morphey had previously told police that he helped Peterson load such a barrel into his truck around the time of Stacy’s disappearance.
Both of these findings could be instrumental in breaking this case and it’s ironic that they are occurring while Drew Peterson sits in jail with a murder charge hanging over his head. This could be just the evidence that the police have been looking for.
What will the medical examiner look for during the autopsy to help identify the corpse? I’m not sure exactly what the condition of these remains are, but if they are indeed Stacy, it is likely they are mostly skeletal given the many months that she has been missing. Even if this is the case, the bones still offer a wealth of information. The jaw and pelvic bones can reveal the victim’s sex. In the jaw, what is termed the posterior ramus of the mandible is curved in males but straight in females. In women, the pelvic bone is wider, to allow for childbirth, and what we call the sciatic notch, a notch in the pelvis where certain nerves pass through, is much broader than it is in males. Using these two bones the sex of any skeletal remains can usually be determined. Long bones, such as the femur (upper leg bone), can be used to estimate the victim’s height even if most of the other bones are missing. There are mathematical formulas for this determination. Of course dental records can be checked and DNA can be obtained from the bones or from any teeth present. These can easily establish a true identity. Hopefully we will know the results of the autopsy before too long.
The barrel can also supply a wealth of forensic information. Or it might supply nothing at all. Bits of tissue and bodily fluids and hair might be found clinging to the walls of the barrel and these could be DNA matched to the corpse and thus a link the corpse and the barrel to one another. Fingerprints might be found, probably not on the outside of the barrel since it has likely been in the river for many months and they would have likely washed away, but inside the barrel, particularly along the inner surface of the lid, some just might have survived. Also hair and fibers might be found inside that could be linked to the killer or to his home. Clothing fibers and fibers from carpets and automobile floor mats are often used to connect elements of a crime to one another. Here are a couple of articles on this unfolding story: