ST. PETERSBURG — Deno Crawford thought the skull was fake when he saw it lying among the tangled mangroves.
He had ventured into the brush and vines and mud at low tide Friday afternoon near 36th Avenue S and Sixth Street in search of feeder crabs to use as fishing bait.
A discarded Halloween decoration, he thought, when he saw the weathered white bulbous mass. Then he looked closer.
He saw its tiny teeth. Its rib cage. Its pointed elbows. And khaki-colored shorts over fleshless leg bones.
"I called the cops and they were here," Crawford said. "It was just like a movie."
Homicide detectives were working to identify the skeleton late Friday and determine a cause of death. Authorities were not immediately able to determine age, gender or anything regarding the circumstances of how the body ended up there, said St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz.
The Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Officer will perform an autopsy and analyze any forensic evidence.
"It's going to take some time to figure this out," Puetz said.
Crawford, 45, said the skeleton looked like it belonged to a shorter person. He guessed it might be a woman, judging from the smallness of the teeth and other bones.
But anything is possible.
"The head looked like it was a grown person," Crawford said.
Police used crime scene tape to secure a grassy area surrounding the section of mangroves where the body was found. A white van was parked with its rear doors open toward the bushes as police investigated. On the other side of Sixth Street, passers-by watched in silence.
Crawford was planning to go fishing with a co-worker when he made the discovery, he said. After the police showed up, he decided to go for a bike ride instead.
"I've been in mangroves all my life," Crawford said. "I've run across raccoons and dead snakes … but never a body."
Times staff writer Kameel Stanley contributed to this report. Reach Dan Sullivan at (727) 893-8321 or [email protected]