A human skull was found yesterday morning in Dania Beach, Florida. Incredibly, this is the third time body parts have been found in South Florida in the past three weeks. More and more, our community is starting to look like scenes from Showtime’s crime series Dexter!
The first gruesome discovery was made in Delray Beach on October 26 when Doris Lopez’s remains were found in a cardboard container left inside her vehicle.
The second discovery was made on November 6 when a container was found floating in a canal behind a waterfront home in Fort Lauderdale . A forensic inspection of the container by the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office revealed the presence of mutilated body parts, a show, a pair of eyeglasses and concrete. The Broward Medical Examiner’s Office claims that the time of death may have been as early as Halloween (October 31).
Now a third discovery has been made. This time it is a human skull. So far, no arrests have been made.
This skull was found late Sunday morning in Dania Beach by Willie Hernandez who is an employee at an auto parts store called Millions of Parts. Hernandez made the discovery near an area of the company’s junkyard where he and co-workers eat lunch.
“I had seen a bunch of plastic and a white bucket at the edge of the rocks, lying flat down,” he said. “I saw blood coming out and I thought maybe it was bait, from people who fish there. The head was inside the bucket. The hair was surrounded by concrete.”
The presence of concrete makes this discovery sound eerily similar to the container found on November 6.
Who does this skull belong to? Is it linked in any way to the prior cases?
Does Broward County have a new serial killer on its hands? Are these cases linked in some way to drug trafficking or domestic violence?
Does the fact that body parts were discarded in Broward water canals mean they are connected? Was the body found last week missing a head? If so, can the Broward Medical Examiner’s Office link this skull to that body?
Does the flow of water link the two locations where Sunday’s skull and the Nov. 6 floating container were found? Is one location up-stream from the other? Do the two locations reveal anything about where the parts may have been dumped?
If I was a police investigator, I would focus my attention on identifying possible locations where the containers were dumped into the water.
The first thing I would do is research the water current statistics for both canals (and connecting canals) in terms of water speed, current direction, and tide patterns for every moment the containers were likely in the water.
Since we know that the day of death for the November 6 container was as early as Halloween and it seems like the day of death for the skull is presently unknown (or at least not publicized), I would use the November 6 container to reverse extrapolate the place of origin (where the container was dumped in the water).
Once I obtained my water current statistics, I would map out different paths of travel along the different canals, marking the container’s expected location every day between November 6 and Halloween, in consideration of its speed, direction of travel, and the ultimate location where it came to rest (behind the Fort Lauderdale home).
Since we know the day the container was found and we have an idea of the earliest time it may have been dumped in the water, we can estimate a number of possible locations in the web of Fort Lauderdale canals since we know its approximate speed and its resting point.
Once the various points of origin were identified along the web of canals for the days between November 6 and Halloween, I would then do a live experiment with a similarly, if not identically, shaped, sized, and weighted container outfitted with a GPS tracker.
By dropping this test container in the canals at the various estimated points of origin we will be able to track the actual path of a similarly situated container and compare those findings to our expected travel paths calculated using the known variables.
By doing this real world experiment, police investigators could narrow down their search to places of origin that make sense in light of the observed behavior of the test container in the canal.
Naturally, this experiment could only be done on days when the water currents and tides mimic those that were present between Halloween and November 6.
It should also be mentioned that experiment is not fool proof because the actual container discovered on November 6 could have been weighted down for a period of time as it traveled in the canal and then broke free. In the alternative, the container could have also been trapped by canal debris or could have gotten stuck on a canal bank during low tide.
If the actual container did not have a consistent float down the canal, calculating its place of origin will be impossible because there is no way to tell if the container stopped moving for whatever reason, how long such stops lasted, and whether or not there were multiple stops.
Such variables would throw off any reverse extrapolation based on expected speed, travel time, and point of rest because they introduce an element of randomness that cannot be quantified.
Regardless, if we assume the container traveled down the middle of each canal in question, without obstruction or delay, we can map out an estimated location for every day that elapsed between the day it was found, November 6 and the day it was dumped.
By reverse engineering the container’s path of travel in the canals, police may be able to identify places of origin worth investigating further… such as a boat yard, a public park, a marina, an empty lot, or underneath a secluded bridge.
Who knows, maybe police will stumble upon a crime scene at one of the places of origin. For instance, what if the container was dumped in the same place where the murder took place? Maybe a murder weapon or other clues can be recovered by dispatching police divers to each suspected place of origin.
Maybe other containers with other victims or other evidence may be found. this may be a realistic possibility since the two containers found had concrete in them. If the murder tried to conceal his crimes by sinking the evidence, he/she may have been successful on some attempts and failed at these two. If true, that means there is more sunken evidence in Fort Lauderdale canals.
In another scenario, what if police investigators find a waterfront property with identical containers sitting out in the open? Wouldn’t that be a worthwhile finding? Don’t you think such a discovery may lead to other clues that can crack this case?
Maybe there is surveillance video at some of the possible places of origin. Maybe there are eye-witnesses who have something meaningful to share with police. Such as a description of a vehicle seen backed up to the canal at an odd hour on Halloween or a suspect who was observed dumping an object into the water…
…the possibilities are endless!
As a criminal defense lawyer, I find these cases to be extremely interesting on a professional level. Of course, I am sickened by the thought of someone being murdered and I feel sorry for the victims.
However, on a professional level, I find the challenges of these investigations to be fascinating. Police investigators need to get creative. The tougher a case is and the fewer clues it presents, the more creative police need to get.
In a case that seems to have little evidence other than a body, reverse engineering the path of the November 6 container seems like the only real piece of actionable evidence police may have.
Whatever happens, I hope police are able to make concrete findings premised on reliable evidence. These body parts present a real mystery that the community needs to have solved immediately… especially since the loss of human life is at issue.
However, before any conclusions can be drawn about these cases, whether they are connected or not, who may or may not be responsible, and why the victims were killed, much more information must be known.
Stay tuned… I will be posting additional entries as this matter develops…