Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Medical examiner confirms mysterious bones along I-75 in Tampa are human

TAMPA — It started with the sneakers.

That's what drew the attention of a couple of blueberry farmers as they stood stranded along the shoulder of Interstate 75 on Tuesday afternoon.

Then they saw the bones.

"Call police," Dan Ebbecke told a AAA operator. "I think there's a body here."

Soon the spot near Bruce B. Downs Boulevard where 30,000 motorists pass each day was surrounded with yellow police tape. By Wednesday morning it was being treated as a crime scene.

Authorities said Ebbecke's instincts were right: The bones, long obscured by brush and debris, were human.

The identity and manner of death remained a mystery Wednesday as the medical examiner and an anthropologist examined the remains. It could be weeks before they figure it out.

"There are so many possibilities," said Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis, noting that detectives wondered if the bones would provide clues to unsolved murders or missing persons cases. "Everyone's wondering who this could be."

That includes Ebbecke.

He and friend Junior Penavler, both farmers from Masaryktown in Hernando County, were driving home from a conference in Polk County when Ebbecke's car overheated. He pulled over and called AAA.

That's when Penavler pointed to the sneakers along the wooded shoulder. Ebbecke wishes he took photos so he could get his wife's opinion. She's a funeral director in Dade City.

"I'm no expert," he said. "But it looked like a human femur bone with ribs and a radius and ulna and all that stuff you remember from biology class."

Ebbecke said he didn't see any flesh on the bleached bones or a skull.

Still, identification is possible.

Investigators typically start with fingerprints, said Hillsborough Medical Examiner Vernard Adams. If there are no prints, they use dental records.

No teeth? They turn to DNA.

Even if a body is deteriorated, investigators often can take enough DNA from a bone to make a close match. They compare the sample to DNA on record for a missing person or family members.

"But you have to have a putative idea of who someone is," Adams said. "Some of these are rather straightforward, and some aren't."

Investigators often have an inkling of identity based on where remains are found or the circumstances of the death.

Sometimes, markings from previous surgical procedures give clues.

But in ambiguous cases, an anthropologist examines bones for age, sex, size and race before testing for DNA.

Determining sex is easy with a pelvis. Adams said age is estimated by examining wear and tear of the bones. Adams said different races have subtle differences in bone lengths and the way they twist.

With a loose description, investigators search local, state and national databases of missing persons. Descriptive features were unavailable Wednesday, and it was unclear how long the bones were there. "Every case is so different," Adams said.

He said bodies deteriorate fast in Florida and are sometimes dried out in a few months, though it takes longer in cold weather.

Ebbecke, the farmer, said the size suggests the bones belonged to a woman or older child. He estimated the sneakers were an adult size 8 or 9.

He said he saw what looked like the remains of a black T-shirt, or possibly a garbage bag near the bones.

Davis said there was a lot of debris and it wasn't clear which items belonged with the bones.

Since thousands of motorists drive within feet of that spot every day, Ebbecke thinks his car broke down there for a reason.

"My wife said God was ready for this person to be found," Ebbecke said. "Maybe this is going to answer questions for somebody's sister, brother, cousin or whoever to find out what actually happened to them."

Times staff writer Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report. Kim Wilmath can be reached at kwilmath@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3386.

Investigators quickly erected tents over the site where bones were found along northbound I-75, near Bruce B. Downs.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Investigators quickly erected tents over the site where bones were found along northbound I-75, near Bruce B. Downs.

Medical examiner confirms mysterious bones along I-75 in Tampa are human 03/17/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 11:27pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Cleveland Clinic will pull event from Mar-a-Lago resort

    Blogs

    A leading U.S. hospital pulled its annual fundraiser from Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort on Thursday, reversing course after initially resisting pressure from health professionals and others over the president's support for repealing the Affordable Care Act and cutting federal budget dollars to medical …

    The Cleveland Clinic pulled its annual fundraiser from Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort on Thursday, reversing course after initially resisting pressure from health professionals and others over the president's support for repealing the Affordable Care Act and cutting federal budget dollars to medical research.
  2. Beach Drive mural is a first for St. Pete's swanky waterfront street

    Blogs

    Mural mania in St. Petersburg is spreading east.

    This mural in progress is on the side of the Smith & Associates building on Beach Drive in St. Petersburg.
  3. On Confederate monuments, the public stands with President Trump

    National

    President Donald Trump came out strongly in opposition to removing Confederate statues from public places, saying it was "sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments."

    Tourists stand near a bronze statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, second from left, that stands inside of Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. [Photo by Mark Wilson | Getty Images]
  4. Venezuelan lawmaker tied to Rubio death threat: ‘We don’t care about you’

    Blogs

    The powerful Venezuelan lawmaker tied to a potential death order against U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio dismissed the notion late Wednesday that he has a personal interest in getting the Florida Republican killed.

    enezuelan Constitutional assembly delegate and Leader of Venezuela's ruling socialist party Diosdado Cabello, left, leaves the General Prosecutors office in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017. Cabello is alleging that the husband and close aides of ousted chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega ran a multi million dollar extortion ring.
  5. Top 5 at noon: Times investigation into Tampa Electric deaths; Buckhorn, others donate to move Confederate monument; and more

    News

    Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com.

    Aerial view of the Tampa Electric Big Bend power station. [Sunday, August 13, 2017] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]