St. Petersburg Times
Special report
Video report
  • For their own good
    Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
  • More video reports
Multimedia report
Print Email this storyEmail story Comment Email editor
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
Your name Your email
Friend's name Friend's email
Your message

Were bodies the work of a serial killer?

Investigators wonder that as they study eight skeletons found in Fort Myers.

Published March 30, 2007


FORT MYERS - The discovery of eight skeletons in a remote wooded area just east of downtown has authorities quietly wondering whether a serial killer might be at work.

Using wire screens, forensics experts are sifting through dirt and debris for clues.

A forensic anthropologist is studying the bones and reconstructing them like pieces of a puzzle. A botanist and an entomologist will examine plant growth and insects to determine how long the remains have been there. And detectives wait for answers.

Who were these people? Were they murdered? And if so, is there a mass killer on the loose?

Theories abound. Maybe a shady crematorium was dumping bodies. Maybe it was an old cemetery. But the most obvious, and frightening, theory is at the forefront of investigators' minds.

"If it was a body dump by a funeral home, they probably would have dumped them all in one place, and these are not on top of each other. They're spread around," said Karen Cooper, supervisor of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Fort Myers crime lab. "I think we're more likely dealing with a serial killer or something of that nature."

The first skeleton was found last Friday by a surveyor checking the land for potential development. Seven others were discovered within 200 yards.

No clothing or personal items were found. No flesh remained - just bones.

The bodies, believed to be those of adults, were not buried. Cooper said the bones also appear to have been chewed on by animals.

Heather Walsh-Haney, a forensic anthropologist, has been sifting through dirt for evidence and bones and is helping to reconstruct the bodies to determine age, gender, race and cause of death.

"In Florida, because of the humid environment, you can get to a skeleton within a few weeks," she said.

Experts say it's not uncommon for a serial killer to dump his victims in the same site or within the same type of terrain.

Daniel Conahan was sentenced to death in 1999 for the strangulation murder of a homeless man whose body was found in a swampy, wooded area north of Fort Myers. Conahan also is suspected in a string of other deaths - dubbed the Hog Trail Murders because of the wooded locations where the bodies were found in Charlotte County in the mid 1990s. Those cases remain unsolved.

Local authorities would not speculate on whether they suspect the skeletons may be connected to Conahan.

John Douglas, a former FBI profiler and expert on serial killers, said the absence of clothing and personal affects with the skeletons leads him to believe that the area is most likely a "serial murderer graveyard."

"To find eight bodies in one place, that's really bizarre," Douglas said, adding that federal authorities estimate there are up to 50 serial killers operating at any given time in the U.S.

"If you're in the business of killing people, that's a great disposal area. You've got the remoteness, the elements, the heat, the insects, animal predation. You put a body out there, and probably within a week or so, there's not going to be much left," Douglas said. "You would be talking about a person who is a very careful killer."

[Last modified March 30, 2007, 01:07:03]

Share your thoughts on this story

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Subscribe to the Times
Click here for daily delivery
of the St. Petersburg Times.

Email Newsletters