SHA surveyor discovers decomposed body in woods


A State Highway Administration surveyor found a decomposed body in woods off Route 216 in Scaggsville yesterday that may have been there for weeks, Howard County police said.

Some clothing was found on the body, but police were unable to determine the cause of death, the person's identity, race, age or sex, said Sgt. Steven Keller, a police spokesman. Crime lab officers combed the scene west of Interstate 95 for much of the morning.

An autopsy by the state medical examiner's office will provide police with more details, including how long the body was in the woods. It is likely the body had been there for two to 10 weeks rather than six months or a year because of the degree of decomposition, Sergeant Keller said.

Using fingerprints or linking teeth to dental records, medical examiners will try to determine if the body matches either of the county's two known missing people.

The body was the second found in Howard County this summer. Bones were found Aug. 7 in Woodstock by volunteers cleaning a stream bed.

Finding the remains of two people -- one month apart -- is unusual for Howard County, "but it would be unusual in any jurisdiction," Sergeant Keller said.

The surveyor who found the body yesterday said he stepped into the woods about 8 a.m. and first saw a clump of clothes and then the body.

"After I told the other two guys, they went back there to make sure I wasn't lying. Then we took the van to the police station," said the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I never thought this would happen to me. I guess I'm going to finish doing my job. It's not much else I can do."

He and the other members of the survey crew worked farther up the road while officers investigated the site.

The crew has been in the area for a week preparing the road for repaving and was planning to finish yesterday. Today they will return to finish their work along the stretch where the body was found, the SHA employee said.

Last month, Howard County's oldest missing-person case became classified as a suspicious death when a woman's skeletal remains were found in Woodstock. The bones were identified eight days later as those of Sandra Lee Taylor, an Ellicott City mother who disappeared more than 10 years ago.

The State Medical Examiner's office still hasn't identified the cause of Ms. Taylor's death.

"We're still working on her," said Dr. Donald Wright, who has been testing the bones for the past month. "It's much better when we have a whole body because that gives us much more to work with."

When only bones are left, the examiner must go through the painstaking process of examining each one by hand and by X-ray to look for any kind of injury to the bone itself.

If those examinations don't yield any clues, the examiner must then look at the police report to guess at a likely cause.

"If we're lucky, we can find where a knife cut a bone or a bullet lodged in one of the big bones. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened in this case," Dr. Wright said.

The examination of Ms. Taylor's bones is almost complete, and he will then consult the police report for more clues as to the cause of death, Dr. Wright said.

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