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March 15, 2013

Police: Body parts found in sewers came from two women

Effort to ID human flesh found in Warren, Sterling Heights last year ongoing

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Anyone who recognizes this tattoo on a set of body parts found last August in a Sterling Heights sewer is asked to contact the Warren Police Department at (586) 574-4700.

WARREN — Police said tests show body parts found months and miles apart in different sections of a sewer system that runs from Oakland County into Sterling Heights and south through Warren came from two different women.

Investigators now hope DNA samples, images of a tattoo taken from one set of body parts and the public’s tips will help solve what could be anything from a murderous mystery to a case of medical waste dumping.

Warren Police Commissioner Jere Green confirmed March 12 that DNA testing determined cut fragments of non-skeletal human flesh found by contractors on a sewer grate under the Edison Corridor between Frazho and 10 Mile Road in December and those found under nearly identical circumstances in Sterling Heights last August were not from the same source.

“They’re both white females, but they’re different people,” Green told the Warren Weekly. “It’s not the same person.”

Contractors employed by Inland Waters Pollution Control working about 50 feet underground on a section of the Oakland-Macomb Interceptor near Dodge Park and 15 Mile Road discovered nearly a dozen non-skeletal body parts on a sewer grate Aug. 15. Sterling Heights police later released images of the tattooed flesh, and eventually said DNA testing revealed that the cut pieces of tissue came from a white woman.

Warren police said Inland Waters employees also found the second set of body parts under eerily similar circumstances Dec. 20 in the sewer beneath the Edison Corridor, west of Schoenherr and north of 10 Mile.

Two pieces of flesh and attached fatty tissue recovered from the sewer in Warren were later sent to the same lab at the University of North Texas that analyzed the body parts found in Sterling Heights.

The pieces recovered in Warren and Sterling Heights were roughly the same size -- irregular shapes four to five inches wide and about an inch thick.

While the analyses determined the source race and sex for both sets of body parts, the DNA did not match samples held in national databases available to law enforcement.

“To us, the critical thing is to indentify who these people are,” Green said. “The facts are, Sterling Heights found these things and four months later we found some in the same infrastructure, as far as the drains go. We have to investigate it as a homicide because we have body parts.”

Green said Warren detectives had pursued various angles in the investigation, including the possibility that the flesh could be medical waste.

Investigators also said the body parts could have entered the sewer closer to the beginning of the system in Oakland County.

Investigators said it appeared that the pieces were cut with a sharp object but that they did not believe the instrument was a specialty tool designed to cauterize an incision.    

Beyond that, little else was known.

“No matter what you say, you have to assume the two (cases) are related,” Green said. “It’s a little beyond coincidence.”

During the course of the investigation, Warren police consulted with the office of the Macomb County Medical Examiner, the FBI and University of Michigan Health System medical staff.

Detectives appealed to the public for help to determine the source of the body parts. Warren investigators want to hear from anyone who recognizes the tattoo, or knows a white woman missing prior to August and December 2012.

They’re hoping that identifying one set of body parts will lead to a break in both cases.

“We’re not ruling out medical waste at this point. We just know there’s no legal way that got in the sewer system,” said Warren Police Detective Cpl. Mel Nearing, the officer in charge of the case. “That’s why we’re putting this out again, because we haven’t got the phone call that cracks the case.”

Hundreds of sanitary sewer lines from two-dozen communities tie into nine larger lines that feed into the Oakland-Macomb Interceptor. The system transports waste to the city of Detroit for treatment and serves 833,000 people in two counties.

More information about the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification and its efforts to assist law enforcement agencies and families of missing persons across the country by cataloging reference samples through DNA testing can be found online at www.untchi.org

Anyone with information about the tattoo, a missing person or other details related to the case can reach Warren police at (586) 574-4700.