Investigators clearing area where skeletal remains were found in w Manchester twp.
Investigators clearing area where skeletal remains were found in w Manchester twp. (Bil Bowden)

A forensic team on Tuesday afternoon finished collecting bones at a site in West Manchester Township where tree-trimmers first spotted a human skull on Monday, York County Chief Deputy Coroner Claude Stabley said.

A team from Mercyhurst University in Erie, led by forensic anthropologist Dr. Dennis Dirkmaat, arrived Tuesday morning and began excavating, according to Stabley, and finished their work just before 5 p.m.

"We have recovered a substantial amount of the skeleton," he said.

The bones were in a brushy area along Loucks Road between Carlisle Road and Haviland Drive, a small road that leads to the West Manchester Mall.

The area just off the road is low-lying, according to Stabley.

"It's rare that you find all the bones," he said.

That's because smaller bones are often the first to be carried away by scavenging animals, he said.

Likely an adult: Preliminary examination of the bones suggests they belonged to an adult, Stabley said.

Also found was one piece of unisex-type clothing, he said.

Stabley said how the person died remains a mystery, and foul play can't be ruled out.

"At this point, from what we've been able to observe, we don't see any grossly observable trauma," he said. "But until they examine the remains in depth, I can't say that there is no trauma."

The body has been at the site for some time, according to Stabley -- perhaps between a year and several years.

Stabley confirmed investigators have learned homeless people have been known to frequent the general area.

Mall security officers in the past have moved along homeless people who were hanging out within 200 yards of the spot where the bones were found, he said.

The background: West Manchester Township Police were called to the site Monday after tree-trimmers spotted the body, and police protected the scene until Dirkmaat, the anthropologist, arrived, York County Coroner Barry Bloss said.

"This guy is considered one of the very best in the field," Bloss said.

Bloss said the area was not disturbed until Dirkmaat and his team could arrive.

"They like to be the ones to do the digging," he said.

Bloss said the person could have died a natural death, had an accident, committed suicide or been the victim of foul play.

He said it appears the skull has been there for some time, though he said it's hard to know exactly how long.

Reading the bones: Bloss said Dirkmaat will take the remains back to his lab at Mercyhurst for examination. Forensic anthropologists can often determine gender, age and race from bones, but not always, according to the coroner.

"Sometimes the measurements don't always tell the whole story," Bloss said.

He said he doesn't yet know how long it might take to solve the mystery, especially if no other bones are found.

Dirkmaat's team also will try to extract DNA from the bones and have a DNA profile done.

-- Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com.