The neatly severed leg washed ashore in St. Petersburg two days after Christmas. And its origin remained a mystery — until this month.
Authorities have identified its owner as a missing 38-year-old Bradenton woman named Kelly Moriarty, deputies said Tuesday.
But the discovery hasn't answered much.
Investigators still haven't found the rest of Moriarty's body. Or determined how or why she died. Or found her girlfriend, Doris Carter, 62, who also is missing.
"We'd like to find her alive and ask her what happened, but there's a possibility that might not happen," Hillsborough County sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon said.
The pair was last seen by family on Dec. 16, when they left Carter's house in a rural area north of Plant City. They were in Moriarty's car.
Four days later, the car was found abandoned on State Road 62 in Parrish. It wasn't impounded until the next week.
In the meantime, a leg washed ashore at 6990 Fourth St. S, pale and bent at the knee.
It was cleanly cut at the thigh and the foot. Police speculated someone had gone to great lengths to dismember the body.
But they had no idea whom it belonged to — or even the gender of the person it came from.
When bodies and limbs are found, authorities often turn to lists of missing persons, and St. Petersburg police said that's what they would do.
But for weeks, an answer eluded them.
On Jan. 27, the manager of the Bradenton apartment where Moriarty lived called Moriarty's emergency contact — her brother — because she hadn't paid rent or contacted the office in weeks.
The brother and manager entered the apartment together. Nothing appeared disturbed, deputies said.
But her brother found one thing odd: The Christmas tree was still up, and the gifts were under the tree, still wrapped. He filed a missing person's report with Bradenton police, and when officers visited Carter's family, they began to worry.
On Jan. 28, Carter's daughter filed a missing person's report with the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office.
Hillsborough deputies searched the impounded car but found nothing suspicious. They had no idea where the crime had occurred.
And they still didn't know about the leg.
In February, St. Petersburg police contacted the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office because a decomposing body was found behind a Brandon home. St. Petersburg police wanted to know if that body might be missing a leg.
It wasn't, but deputies put two and two together, McKinnon said, because the leg was found shortly after the two women went missing.
They asked Carter's and Moriarty's families for DNA samples.
On Friday, the Pinellas County medical examiner's office returned with the answer.
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The women dated about two years before they went missing.
Calls to Carter's family members were not returned Tuesday. Moriarty's family released a statement, saying they are still in shock and grieving Kelly's passing —- something that became real only Friday, when detectives told them of the DNA match.
"We loved and miss her tremendously," Moriarty's brother, Brenden, said in an email.
He said the family hopes law enforcement officials across the Tampa Bay region work to find who is responsible for her death "and bring them to justice."
His email did not discuss the pair's relationship. And the only public information about them is found in Pinellas court records.
A year ago in April, Carter filed an injunction against Moriarty.
Carter said Moriarty had pushed and threatened her at St. Petersburg's Georgie's Alibi bar, where they often went to dance.
And she said Moriarty stole the wedding band her husband of 37 years had given her. (That man, William Carter, died in 2005.)
When the two women lived together, Carter said, Moriarty insisted that Carter spend her dead husband's money on her.
Carter said she paid all the bills.
Deputies made Moriarty turn over her handgun, but the injunction was dismissed.
Two weeks later, Moriarty filed her own injunction against Carter. The allegations were similar, but in reverse.
Moriarty said that Carter and a male friend pushed her against the wall at Georgie's Alibi.
Moriarty wrote in the injunction that Carter had a prescription drug addiction, drank alcohol to excess and had "many handguns, shotguns, rifles and knives in her home and vehicle."
A week later, though, Moriarty asked the court to dismiss the case because a hearing date conflicted with her job.
Nothing new was added to either file until March 16, when the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office sent the clerk's office a letter.
To help in their investigation, they wanted copies of the injunctions, a captain wrote.
On Tuesday, McKinnon said the injunctions don't prove anything on their own. Carter is not a suspect in Moriarty's disappearance or death, he said.
"It might not even be a homicide," he said, adding that she could have died of natural causes before someone disposed of her body.
Their main focus right now is finding Carter, hopefully alive.
Times staff writer Drew Harwell and news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.