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St. Petersburg police call off search in severed leg case, turn to DNA for answers

ST. PETERSBURG — After coming up empty, police called off their two-day search for more body parts along the city's shore on Wednesday evening.

Now police will play the long game: Detectives will rely on DNA to identify the owner of the severed leg that washed ashore on Tuesday morning.

The limb was a right leg from a white person, likely female, that was cleanly cut at the thigh and the foot. That suggests criminal intent to police.

"Short of finding the head or the hands, we do have a significant piece of the body," said police spokesman Mike Puetz. "With that DNA, we should be able to identify the person that's missing. We should be able to make a match."

But police say someone out there needs to help them out.

They hope that someone who fears for their missing relative or friend will take the necessary steps to have that person's genetic profile entered into a national database of missing persons. Or a relative could submit their own DNA, so that their genetic profile's similarities can be linked to the severed limb.

"As long as there's family out there that can press the issue," Puetz said, "we can make a match."

The Medical Examiner's Office is obtaining DNA from the leg. But recovering DNA, submitting it for analysis and cross-checking it with databases takes time. Still, Puetz said, it's their best chance.

"There's hope," he said. "It's just long term."

So far a search of local missing persons' cases around the bay area hasn't yielded any matches to the victim's physical characteristics, Puetz said. St. Petersburg gave up its search of the city's coastline late Wednesday, he said, because the window for any other body parts to wash up closed.

"Given the currents, given that we've already checked the area," Puetz said, "we felt the likelihood that anything else would turn up was extremely low."

Anyone with information about the severed leg is asked to call St. Petersburg police at (727) 893-7780. Anonymous tipsters can call (727) 892-5000 or text police at (727) 420-8911.

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8472.

St. Petersburg police call off search in severed leg case, turn to DNA for answers 12/29/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 29, 2011 8:48pm]
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