Maine State Police detectives continue to investigate the recent discovery of skeletal remains in Casco, a process that includes a forensic anthropologist who could help uncover clues about the person’s identity and cause and manner of death.
The human remains were found May 8 in a shed by a relative cleaning out the property of Douglas Scott Sr., who was 82 when he died on March 4. Police have not released any details about the remains other than to confirm they were found and reported to police through a 911 call.
It could be weeks before investigators have more information to release, according to Shannon Moss, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Public Safety. Detectives are interviewing Scott’s family members and others who might have information related to the case. Detectives are also waiting on the results of DNA tests, she said.
In addition, investigators are looking into the possible connection to a missing person report filed by one of Scott’s four sons in March. That report says Scott’s daughter, Denise Scott Ramsey, was last seen at her father’s home and had not been heard from in more than a year, according to a probate court filing in the wake of Scott’s death.
The family has declined to comment on the search for Ramsey or the discovery of the human remains at 196 Poland Spring Road.
After the remains were recovered from the shed in Casco, they were brought to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for an autopsy to determine the identity of the person and how and when the person died. That is the specialty of Marcella Sorg, a research professor at the University of Maine and the primary forensic anthropologist for Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island.
Sorg said she could not talk specifically about the Casco case because of the ongoing investigation, but outlined the examination process and what can be learned by a forensic anthropologist.
Any human remains recovered in Maine are investigated by the medical examiner’s office. The chief medical examiner, who is a board-certified forensic pathologist, determines the cause and manner of death. But in cases where the remains are skeletal, badly burned or in advanced state of decomposition, a forensic anthropologist is called in to do an examination, Sorg said.
“The forensic pathologist is the one that does the autopsy and the focus of their expertise is really on the soft tissues,” Sorg said. “The anthropologist, on the other hand, is used to dealing with bones.”
Sorg, who has been consulting with Maine’s chief medical examiner since 1977, says she is called on a couple of times a week to assist with cases in the four states she works with. In Maine, the most common cases are ones involving full or partial skeletons that have been found or situations where the remains are badly burned or decomposed.
“Sometimes it might be that police have found a bone and they want to know whether it’s human or not,” she said. “Sometimes the remains may just be a historic unmarked grave that gets found when people are building a road or renovating a house.”
Other times, Sorg is called to a scene to help recover remains, which can be particularly helpful when the bones are not all in one place. When the remains have been scattered or chewed on by animals, Sorg can determine if the bones are human or animal and if all of the remains have been located.
Most discoveries are ultimately determined to be natural deaths, she said.
After the remains have been collected, forensic anthropologists begin an examination of the bones to create a biological profile that includes age, sex, stature and ancestry.
According to the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, a forensic anthropologist creating a biological profile of a skeleton uses standards developed on populations of individuals of known age, sex, height and ancestry whose bones have previously been measured and analyzed. Unidentified skeletal remains are compared to those standards to generate a statistical probability of the person’s likely age, gender, stature and ancestry, if possible.
That information can help medical examiners identify remains, which in turn can assist law enforcement with investigating crimes or closing missing-person cases, according to the American Board of Forensic Anthropology.
Beyond the biological profile, forensic anthropologists will also try to determine how long ago the death occurred and if there are any signs of trauma.
When Sorg is examining remains, she looks at each individual bone for signs of trauma, such as a sharp force trauma from a knife, blunt-force trauma or damage that could be from a bullet. X-rays can be used to see if there are any bullets, especially in cases involving decomposed remains, she said.
During the examination, Sorg may find other information about the person that could help with identification, such as something characteristic about the individual’s facial structure, medical issues the person may have had, or even a bone fracture from childhood.
“Those kinds of things may help us identify them because we don’t always have DNA,” she said. “With all the TV programs, people have this automatic idea that we do DNA on everybody. We can’t always do that. You have to know who you think they are first to do DNA.”
Sorg said examinations of remains can take hours to days, depending on the condition of the remains. Once her examinations are complete, she submits a report to the medical examiner, who will use that information while determining the cause and manner of death. Sorg may be called to testify in court, but she doesn’t investigate suspicious deaths as forensic anthropologists are sometimes shown doing in TV shows.
“I don’t chase the suspects,” she said.