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Reconstructing human remains found in L.A. forest will be jigsaw puzzle

December 28, 2009 |  5:32 pm

One of the skulls was marked by a large circular hole in the forehead, which authorities suspect was a bullet wound. The other, found roughly 25 to 50 yards away in a remote section of the Angeles National Forest, showed severe trauma.

On Monday, a forensic anthropologist and other investigators examined the skulls and other human bones found in the area last week. The bones are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that authorities hope will lead them to the identity of the victims and eventually to who or what killed them.

The Los Angeles County coroner’s office said Monday the deaths appear suspicious but that officials won’t know for sure until more tests are done. 

“It appears that both of them are homicides, but we’re not going to say right now,” said Ed Winter of the coroner’s office. Winter said a forensic anthropologist was poring over the bones, trying to match up  which pieces belonged to which skull.

Then comes the task of identifying the race, age and sex of each set of remains. Investigators hope to have that portion completed by the end of the week. Authorities will then comb through missing-persons databases and look through local and federal law enforcement records to check for possible matches. Investigators then will use various means, such as dental records, to try to positively identify the remains.

Homicide detectives aren’t likely to jump on the case until the coroner can provide a cause death, as well as identifications. Right now, there are few clues.

One of the skulls shows signs it could have been burned during last summer's Station fire, suggesting that the remains might have been there before the fire started. The second skull was found buried under a couple of inches of dirt, Winter said.

Law enforcement authorities and coroner’s investigators are unsure how long the remains had been there.

-- Ari B. Bloomekatz