After help from Smithsonian Institution anthropologists, Howard County police ended a four-day excavation of scattered human bones from a Woodstock stream yesterday.
Now, they must determine whose bones they were and how they got there. They announced yesterday that they were focusing on three missing persons cases between 4 and 10 years old.
The first evidence -- a partial skull, clothing, credit cards and a leg bone still attached to a sock and hiking boot -- was found
Monday during a volunteer cleanup of land owned by Howard County Conservancy Inc.
Since then, detectives have found a set of keys, part of the jaw and additional vertebrae. The teeth could match a missing person's dental records, said Lt. Timothy Branning, a Howard police spokesman.
"Somewhere out there . . . may be a family of a missing person we can help bring closure to," he said.
Detectives have been sifting through old missing persons files since the bones were found, but they would not identify specific cases they are focusing on, saying that they didn't want to bolster the hopes of relatives who would like to see their cases closed.
Wednesday, four anthropologists from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington demonstrated digging techniques, estimated how far the stream current and animals may have scattered the bones and showed county police how to identify bone types.
Some bones, like the skull, were juxtaposed with rocks, and others looked like sticks, police said. They estimate they have 65 percent of the skeleton.
Despite the search, the pelvic bone could not be located. That bone, which varies in men and women, would help police learn of the gender of the person, said Lieutenant Branning.
"Now starts the tedious process of taking all the bones and identifying the remains," he said. "There will be a lot of foot work involved and a lot of old-fashioned police work."
Howard police hope an autopsy will give information, Lieutenant Branning said.
For now, detectives are investigating the find as a suspicious death and have alerted nearby jurisdictions to the discovery.