- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Police are hoping that a sketch artist’s rendering will help them identify the embalmed head of a woman found in the western Pennsylvania woods last week.

Economy Borough police Chief Michael O’Brien told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the drawing isn’t finished, but will be released to media outlets once it is. Police don’t want to release a photo of the woman’s head in order to be sensitive to her family.

The head appears to be that of woman in her late 60s or early 70s, but police have no idea where it’s from - especially since it was embalmed.

That’s one reason police don’t suspect the woman was the victim of a homicide. But, depending on how and why the head wound up in the woods, a crime still could have been committed. Among other things, it’s illegal to abuse a corpse in Pennsylvania.

“What’s bizarre is not that we’ve found a head, it’s that we’ve found a head that’s embalmed,” O’Brien said. “That’s what’s really strange about the whole thing.”

Police are contacting medical schools to see if the head is from a cadaver, and are entering DNA from the remains into a nationwide FBI database for missing persons.

If police can determine the woman’s identity, that gives them a starting place to determine who would have had access to her body and when. The sketch hasn’t been completed because the artist is backlogged, but O’Brien’s hoping to release it in the next few days.

The head was found Friday in Economy, a borough about 20 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. Search crews using cadaver-sniffing dogs searched the area, but found no other remains.

O’Brien said the head appeared to be in good condition, leading police to believe it hadn’t been there more than a week. But because it was embalmed, investigators can’t be entirely sure.

“It’s so bizarre, nobody has ever heard of anything like this,” O’Brien said.

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