Clover Island remains definitely human (w/ gallery)

KENNEWICK — Small blue flags dotted an embankment Tuesday near where skeletal remains were found at the edge of Duffy's Pond south of Clover Island.

The flags marked areas where Kennewick police investigators and forensic scientists with the Washington State Patrol's Crime Scene Response Team found items to be collected as possible evidence.

"We were looking for anything that gives us an indication of who this person was or why they're there," said Kennewick police Sgt. Randy Maynard.

Some of the items collected were "pretty benign," or things that detectives don't yet know if they're relevant to the remains, Maynard said.

It's not even clear yet if a crime was committed or if the death was accidental. That likely won't be known until the remains are identified or the cause of death is determined by a forensic pathologist.

Benton County Coroner John Hansens said he was hoping a forensic pathologist would be available today to examine the skeletal remains.

What investigators do know is that the remains found Monday by a Richland survey crew doing work for the Army Corps of Engineers are human.

The surveyor who discovered the remains said that he spotted cowboy boots, what appeared to be leg bones, a coat and a skull that partially was buried in the mud.

Maynard said it's not yet known if the remains belong to a man or woman or how old they were when they died. They also don't know how long the body had been in the pond.

"Depending on the water level, which varied every day, the remains were either in the water or out of the water," Maynard said. "It was that close to the shoreline."

Hansens said he had talked to a forensic anthropologist who told him the remains likely were there for an "extended period of time" based on the condition of the bones.

The estimate was between 18 and 30 months, he said.

Dental records or a DNA comparison might have to be used to identify the remains, Hansens said.

"We'll have to narrow the list of possible people it could be from missing persons reports or people coming forward," Hansens said. "It could be a very short period of time, depending on resources ... or, unfortunately, it may take a while."

Kennewick police on Monday began screening missing person reports and asked other agencies in the Tri-Cities to do the same.

A report on Kennewick cases from 2010 through Monday returned about 30 cases, but Maynard said when officers went through the reports by hand they found only one or two active cases.

On Tuesday, investigators spent about eight hours sifting through the dirt and brush along the shoreline of Duffy's Pond looking for any clues. They went through the area by hand, with metal detectors and rakes to clear away the brush.

Kennewick fire crews early Tuesday helped rig a ladder down the embankment that a Kennewick detective used as a bridge to take pictures of the remains and surrounding area without disrupting the scene.

Four forensic scientists with the WSP Crime Scene Response Team in Spokane then helped detectives comb the area for possible evidence. Maynard said they requested the specialized WSP team because it can provide a big impact for the department.

"They have a ton of resources that we don't have that makes it a huge help," Maynard said. "They have more expertise than we do in specific crime scene processing like that, so it's a huge resource for us to be able to call upon them."

* Paula Horton: 509-582-1556; phorton@tricityherald.com