- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2018

D.C. officials confirmed Monday the discovery of skeletal remains of three women at a Southeast apartment building since Wednesday.

Mayor Muriel Bowser, Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham and Dr. Roger A. Mitchell Jr., the city’s chief medical examiner, held a press conference Monday afternoon where the bodies had been unearthed, behind an apartment building on the 100 block of Wayne Place in the Congress Heights neighborhood.

Dr. Mitchell, a forensic pathologist, said the remains had been buried in the apartment’s back yard for at least a year, the amount of time needed for bodies to decompose to skeletons.

“The cause of the manner of death is still outstanding,” he said. “Once you’re beyond a year, it’s very difficult to gauge.”

The skeletons lack any soft tissue, complicating efforts to identify women and determine the cause of death, he said, adding that the remains were identified as belonging to women by their “distinctly female” pelvic bones.

However, officials said that police investigators were able to preserve DNA from the skeletons, which might help in identifying the women.

Police are still investigating the scene and the neighborhood, and will refer to missing persons lists in the effort to identify the skeletons, Chief Newsham said.

“I wish we had more information about this case than we do,” the police chief said, asking that anyone with potential information about the case to notify investigators.

Also attending Monday’s press conference was D.C. Council member Trayon White, the Ward 8 Democrat who represents the community where the remains were found.

Mr. White previously has held community rallies to raise awareness of teens and women who are missing and exploited. He told The Washington Times he will soon hold another similar event in the community.

“We certainly feel for how this community must feel, especially not having these women identified, and we are going to work very hard to identify who are they and why they were found in these circumstances,” Miss Bowser said.

Congress Heights resident William Bailey told The Times that he saw contract workers working on renovating the apartment building Wednesday when they discovered one skeleton in a crawlspace. He said he instructed the workers to phone the police.

After days of excavation, police cadaver dogs sniffed out two more skeletal remains in a shallow grave in the back yard. Bones from the two bodies were mixed, which may indicate they were buried together, Dr. Mitchell said.

“I’ve been in the military so certain things don’t bother me,” said Mr. Bailey, 65, a Vietnam veteran. “But all bodies are supposed to be in a cemetery, they ain’t supposed to be out back in a field.”

The back yard where the dogs sniffed out the bodies — about half a mile from the Anacostia Freeway — is a thin forest where neighbors often walk and children play. Now the area is cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape as police comb for clues, adding to neighbors’ frustrations over a lack of information about the investigation.

“I might got some DNA over there because I go there to look for sticks to play with my dog,” Mr. Bailey said.

Metropolitan Police investigate thousands of missing persons cases every year and locate most of the missing. In 2017, police tracked 3,397 missing persons cases and solved all but seven. In 2016, 3,548 people in District went missing and all were located, according to police records.

But Southeast has long been plagued by higher numbers of missing persons cases, murders and assaults than the rest of the District. In Ward 8 the number of homicides increased by more than 6 percent last year, from 63 in 2016 to 67 in 2017.

Two years ago a community survey showed that Ward 8 residents feel the least safe of all the city’s residents.

“This area right here is really quiet,” resident Brenda Brooks told The Times. “To hear that something like that happened right here is really shocking.”

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