Monday, May 17, 2004

Virginia Beach police yesterday said that the body parts in three suitcases found floating near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel this month belonged to the same man.

A boater near the bridge-tunnel found a suitcase stuffed with human remains on Sunday. On May 5, a fisherman found a similar suitcase, and a bird watcher found another May 11.

Forensics investigators are confident the remains belong to a single victim, described only as a white male, said Master Police Officer Don Rimer, a spokesman for the Virginia Beach Police Department. He declined to comment about the type and style of suitcases used to conceal the remains.

According to wire service reports, the remains were discovered wrapped in plastic and include a human head. Officer Rimer said the body parts have been sent to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Norfolk for identification via DNA testing.

Leah Bush, deputy chief medical examiner for Virginia’s Tidewater district, would not discuss the specifics of the case yesterday.

Dr. Bush said it can take several months to make a positive identification in such cases because investigators have no records for comparison.

“If we have a missing person to compare the DNA or dental records to, it can be a daylong exercise,” Dr. Bush said. “But if we have no suspected missing individuals, it can take weeks to months.”

In cases such as this one, Dr. Bush said her team of medical examiners begins by submitting DNA samples to the lab to confirm they are from the same person. Then they photograph the body, conduct X-rays and look for identification clues, such as fingerprints, scars, tattoos, articles of clothing and metal prostheses, such as hip replacements.

“We look for everything that might give us a hint as to who it might be,” Dr. Bush said.

Officer Rimer said police do not yet know when the man was killed or whether the suitcases were dumped at the same time.

“We’re in a holding pattern right now,” he said. “If the fingerprints and DNA match someone, we’ll proceed with the investigation.”

Officer Rimer said Virginia Beach police first will seek to identify the victim, then determine where he was from and how the killing occurred.

“The process is the same as if we’d found the body in a house,” he said. “But if he’s from out of the area, the jurisdiction [in the case] could change.”

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