DNA testing on skull, bone found near Paxton delayed

RURAL PAXTON — It could be early next year before DNA testing is done on skeletal remains found in a river southeast of Paxton.

For several weeks, the state police crime lab in Springfield has been in possession of the human skull and bone found in early August in the Big Four Ditch, which flows out of the Middle Fork River in northern Champaign County and southern Ford County.

However, Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh said Friday that “our best guess is three to six months” for DNA testing to be done on the remains.

“The reason is they’re just so backlogged with the ongoing stuff,” Walsh said.

Walsh noted that the crime lab is “well under-staffed” and that this case is “not time sensitive” when compared with active homicide investigations, for example.

The remains are “obviously years and years old,” Walsh said, “and they just don’t have the staff with the state cutbacks, so if it isn’t critical, it’s going to sit there in the queue for a while.”

Walsh said there has been “no supplemental information” received by his office from the state police crime lab that can help identify the remains. Police hope to learn more after a forensic anthropologist finishes examining the remains and an attempt is made to extract DNA.

Preliminary indications are that the skull may be more than five years old, but it could be much older, Walsh said.

Walsh said authorities also are not sure whether the remains belonged to a male or female. It is also hard to say at this point if the remains could belong to a missing person or a victim of foul play, or instead could perhaps be those of a Native American Indian and unrelated to any crime, Walsh said.

Meanwhile, the forensic anthropologist examining the remains is “fairly certain” that the skull and other bone found by a family canoeing in the river are human, Walsh said. The anthropologist is also looking at “another three to five” other bones that police found during a subsequent search of the river but “were not sure” were from an animal or human, Walsh said.

Authorities spent four days searching seven-plus miles of the river and its banks, Walsh said. The area searched by police was from near Champaign County Road 2700 East to about Champaign County Road 2280 East, near Ford County Road 100 North, Walsh said.

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