Sheriff seeks answers behind human remains mystery

Updated 4/15/2010 1:54 PM
  • Investigators search Herrick Lake Forest Preserve near Wheaton Tuesday after human bones were discovered.

    Investigators search Herrick Lake Forest Preserve near Wheaton Tuesday after human bones were discovered. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Authorities investigating this week's discovery of human remains in a DuPage County forest preserve released a few details Thursday in an attempt to uncover the identity.

Roughly 48 hours after the remains were found, investigators still are trying to determine the person's age, gender, race and how he or she died. So far, they know the victim had a "very distinct teeth pattern, with missing teeth in the front," sheriff's officials said.

The victim also may have been wearing an extra-large Hanes gray sweatshirt with a "Little Nicky" logo inscribed on the front.

Anyone with information is urged to contact the sheriff's criminal investigations unit at (630) 407-2400.

A man gathering mushrooms Tuesday at Herrick Lake Forest Preserve off Butterfield Road near Wheaton found the remains. Jerry Moretti of Wheaton said he was hoping to get an early start on the hunt for morels - a hard-to-find but popular delicacy - when he noticed some shoes and clothes about 20 to 30 yards into the wooded area.

"The first thing that caught my eye was a pair of shoes and a shirt, and I thought, 'Well, someone's having fun out here,' then I saw the skull and immediately noticed the teeth and said that's a human skull - there's no way that's some kind of animal," he said.

The remains are severely decomposed and absent human tissue. The initial crime-scene investigation is complete and the bones were examined, X-rayed and a forensic dentist was brought in to assist with identification.

There are unsolved reports of local missing people, but DuPage State's Attorney Joe Birkett said it's not uncommon if foul play was involved for a body to be dumped far from where the crime occurred.

Stephanie McNeil, the sister of John Michael Spira, a St. Charles man who was last seen in February 2007, believes his disappearance is a homicide and was hopeful the remains are her brother's. The initial dental and clothing description, however, does not match the Spira case.

"We've definitely inquired, but didn't get any information," McNeil said. "We've gone through this so many times. It's always pins and needles."