As far as murders go things tend to be fairly straightforward for investigators. You have a corpse, a big piece of the puzzle, and you identify it, analyze and inspect it to look for clues to what has happened, how they died, and possible peeks into their history that may have led up to this grim demise. While indeed forensic science is not as simple as that, it can get a lot more complicated when you do not have a whole body to work with, and on top of that don’t even know who the victim is. There have been a few bizarre cases of body parts that have turned up that seem to belong to no one, and which have stirred intense bewilderment, hot debate, and heated discussion all without providing any real answers. Here are some of the weirder of these cases of human body parts appearing out of nowhere almost as if to taunt all who would seek answers.
August 25, 2016 must have seemed like just another peaceful, uneventful day in Norwalk, Ohio, a normally quiet, mundane community of about 17,000 near Lake Erie, located about 50 miles west of Cleveland and which is known for its very low crime rate and lack of homicides. On this day, two North Central EMS personnel were on their break at a gas station when they found something rather surprising lying in a field near the parking lot. There, wrapped up in a large zip-loc bag was what appeared to be a disembodied human heart.
The shocked EMS personnel called their dispatcher, who oddly enough at first told them to just throw it away, before changing their mind and contacting police, who were just as baffled about the mysterious organ as anyone else. Tests on the heart showed that it was indeed from a human being, but the problem was that no one could figure out just who it could possibly be from. No hospitals reported missing any human hearts and there were no people reported missing or murdered and liberated of their heart in the region either. There were also no coroners who had misplaced or lost hearts. Another theory was that the wayward heart may have been a specimen used for a medical school that had simply fallen off the back off a truck, but no one seemed to be missing any of their supplies.
So where did it come from? It was particularly bizarre as the heart was reported as being quite fresh and relatively free of decomposition, meaning it had been removed from its owner quite recently, which led to talk of an organ theft from a fresh corpse or even possible murder. It was all a total mystery, and one Sgt. James Fulton said of the unusual and gruesome find:
You always take a deep breath and you think, ‘What do we have here?’ The possibilities with this are pretty far-reaching: You got possibly a homicide, where you don’t have a body yet. It is hard to say where it came from. There are hearts that are transported after autopsies, but they are generally not in a zip-lock bag. There are abandoned bodies without hearts, but we don’t have one. I don’t have anything to link it to. We don’t usually find hearts in zip-lock bags. I can’t remember ever having a call like this. It is very unusual.
Security footage from the gas station was analyzed looking for anything suspicious, but nothing of consequence turned up, perhaps not surprising since the cameras did not actually cover the area of the grass where the heart had been found. Police also implored the public to come forward with any information they might have on anyone missing a heart or suspicious activity in the area, but this too led nowhere, and the authorities are left with a mysterious heart in a bag who no one can figure out where in the world it came from. It was fresh so could not have travelled far from its origin, so just what is going on here? For now it seems like no one really knows.
One of the most well-known and creepiest of stories involving body parts coming from nowhere comes the North American northwest coasts of British Columbia, in Canada, and Washington state, in the United States. Known for its vast and picturesque natural splendor, the beaches of this area would normally be incredibly scenic, that is if it weren’t for all of the detached human feet that seem to keep washing up here. Starting from 2007, a total of at least 16 running shoes or hiking boots with human feet still stuffed within, oddly mostly right feet, have washed up all up and down the coast, the grim discoveries usually rude surprises made by people out for a relaxing walk along the seashore. Some of the feet have appeared in pairs, a good portion of them without a partner, but most of them without any clear idea of who they belonged to and all of them deeply weird.
When the odd phenomenon first started it caused a media sensation, invoking much public morbid fascination, and sparking intense debate and speculation as to where they had all come from, including that they were from victims of the 2004 tsunami or were the grisly result of drownings, plane crashes, suicides, serial killers, mobsters, or drug dealers, but no one could figure out for sure, nor why it should be only the feet that should wash up and no other body parts. Making things more complicated were the hoaxes carried out by people planting fake feet made of plastic, raw meat, or even in one case an animal paw in a sock stuffed with seaweed.
Although it is odd that these feet should all end up in such a high concentration in this one geographical area, their murky origins are hard to determine, as ocean currents can scatter things far and wide. As for why the feet should be removed from the bodies, this could be because someone cut them off or, as another theory puts it, they dislocated by themselves. Some experts have chimed in to say that as the human body decomposes, extremities such as the hands and feet are often the first to detach and float away, and with modern shoes in water they will bob on the surface rather than sink. In this case, it is thought that many of these were suicides or drownings, and the natural processes of decomposition merely caused the feet to fall off to end up washed ashore. However, this still does not explain why it is only the feet and nothing else.
A common idea is that these are the feet of murder victims of some sort, although there is little physical evidence to support that the feet have been forcefully removed, despite the difficulty discerning this with the level of decomposition found. There is no real evidence of foul play, but at least one witness has said of the detached foot phenomenon:
There’s someone doing this all right. Think about it, if they tied a chain around someone’s ankle and threw them overboard, the foot would just pop off. That could explain it. Maybe they got a lot of bodies stored up in a container and they got washed out. We don’t know. There’s a lot of stuff goes on over there.
Another oddity that has been discussed and oft debated is that if these are from drownings or suicides, then why did the shoes only start to pop up in 2007? Wouldn’t this be indicative of a serial killer or crime wave? Some have pointed out that this may just be due to the advances in shoe technology, making the detached feet more buoyant, but did shoes really change that much in the years leading up to 2007? Why that year? Although some of the feet have been DNA tested and are thought to belong to individuals displaying depression and possible suicidal tendencies, there are others that remain mysterious, and in every case there are questions such as these that linger around them. There are still many mysteries and questions orbiting the case of the strange feet, and we still do not have all of the answers.
Although it is unclear whether either of these phenomena we have looked at so far can be connected to foul play or murder, another case certainly can. One of the earlier and spookier cases of unidentified body parts being uncovered is related to what have been called the “Kingsbury Run Murders” and also more ominously “The Torso Murders,” masterminded by an unknown serial killer between the years of 1935 and 1938 in the Cleveland, Ohio area of the United States. The murders would prove to be some of the most gruesome and horrific in American history, and the mysterious killer would leave at least 13 dead in their wake, or at least parts of them. In every case the victim was believed to have been decapitated, perhaps in some instances while they were still alive, and their heads never found or conversely only the head was found and the body never recovered. In most cases just half a body or disparate dismembered parts were found, but although some of the dead were eventually identified through the body parts left behind most proved to be more baffling.
One of these was the one with which the macabre killing spree kicked off. In September of 1934, a woman’s lower torso including the thighs but lacking anything below the knees was found on a beach at Lake Erie. There was found to be a reddish hue to the skin, which was believed to be caused by some sort of preservative, but it was uncertain why it had been applied or who had done it. Not much could be ascertained about the body portion except that it was from a female believed to be in her 30s. The corpse would never be identified and the mystery woman would come to be known simply as the “Lady of the Lake.”
Another came when two men were found decapitated and missing their genitalia in an area called Jackass Hill. Oddly the two corpses were naked except for their socks and drained of blood. One of the bodies was tentatively identified, but the other was more of a mystery. It too was also covered in the same red chemical preservative as the Lady of the Lake, which had turned the skin tough and rubbery as well, and this body has never been identified.
In some cases the body parts were made into a whole by incoming pieces put together like some sort of macabre jigsaw puzzle, but which still did not solve the mystery. In 1936 two boys found a human head that had belonged to a white male near the East 55th Street bridge. The head had been wrapped in a pair of trousers and police in this case found the rest of the body not long after, completely drained of blood and sporting a series of tattoos. The “Tattooed Man” was never identified, despite a plaster reproduction of the man’s head and a detailed chart outlining the placement of his tattoos being exhibited at the Great Lakes Exposition of 1936 and viewed by tens of thousands of people.
In 1937 there were more unidentified parts of bodies when the upper part of a man’s torso was found near East 37th Street in Kingsbury Run, and parts of the legs and lower torso were later located floating about in a nearby pool. This body was also never identified. Also in February of 1937 was a woman’s upper torso that washed up at Lake Eerie and which remained an utter mystery even when the decomposed lower part of the torso washed up several months later. In June that same year a piece of unidentified headless male body was found bobbing about in the wake of a tugboat on the Cuyahoga River, and over the next few days other parts of the same body were turned up floating about in the murky waters of the river, but this body was never identified either.
The spate of mysterious unidentified body parts continued into 1938, when a part of a woman’s lower leg was found on the shores of the same river in April of that year by a laborer who at first took the body part to be a dead fish. Parts of the woman’s torso and legs would turn up around a month later in a burlap sack, but this was not enough to verify her identity and she remains anonymous. In August of 1938 the armless, legless and headless torso of a woman wrapped in a man’s blue blazer was found by some scrap collectors at a garbage dump in the area. The head, arms and legs were later found tied up with rubber bands and wrapped in butcher paper, and yet another body was found in the same state in the same dump. Neither of these two victims could be identified.
Despite intense media coverage and extensive police efforts to catch the killer, who came to be known as “The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run,” there were no solid leads and no concrete suspects. Indeed, the case became one of the most intense criminal investigations Cleveland has ever seen, with thousands of people interrogated in relation to it but there was nothing. One potential suspect by the name of Frank Dolezal was eventually brought in on suspicion of an unrelated murder and he confessed to the torso killings as well, but his story was full of holes and he killed himself in his prison cell before he could ever be adequately questioned, leaving his connection to the killings a mystery. To this day The Kingsbury Run Torso Murders have never been solved, many of the victims never getting an identity, and it has gone on to become one of the most puzzling and grotesque unsolved crimes in U.S. history.
We are left here with a lot of perplexing puzzles that have no immediate, concrete answers, and which serve to mostly stoke the fires of our imaginations. What happened to these people? Why are their body parts strewn far and wide and nothing else? Perhaps most importantly, who are they? While relatively rare, such cases seem to be almost their own bizarre little niche of unsolved crimes, a species unto itself.