The strange discovery of an embalmed head in the woods of western Pennsylvania last week on Friday has police mystified. Officials have called in a sketch artist in the hopes that a sketch of the unidentified woman will help solve the mystery.
The embalmed head was discovered on Friday in the borough of Economy, which is located approximately 20 miles from Pittsburgh in Beaver County. Cadaver dogs and search crews scoured the nearby wooded area off of Ridge Road Extension on Sunday but did not find any other remains.
Chief Michael O’Brien of the Economy Borough Police Department said on Wednesday that the sketch, which is not completed, will be immediately released to the media for publishing when it is. The sketch artist is currently dealing with a backlog of cases, but should be able to provide the sketch of the woman within the next couple of days. Police are not releasing a photograph of the embalmed head in respect to the woman’s family.
The head looks to be from a woman of about 70 years of age, but because it had been embalmed, authorities have no guess as to how or when the head came to be in the woods. O’Brien spoke to The Associated Press, saying that finding a head is not the strange part, but finding a head already embalmed is what makes this discovery unique. In addition, police believe the head was placed in the area less than a week ago because of its good condition, but due to the fact that it was embalmed, officials cannot be completely positive of that.
Besides hiring a sketch artist to draw the woman’s face, police are checking with medical schools in order to determine if the head came from a cadaver. DNA from the head is also being entered into a national database of the FBI’s missing persons. As of Wednesday, the media attention of the case has not led to anyone coming forward with information.
Police believe that once the woman has been identified, they will be able to pinpoint a place from which to begin investigating who was in contact with her corpse as well as when. Economy Borough Police and Beaver County detectives are working with Teri Tatalavich-Rossi, the coroner of Beaver County, on the case.
Embalming a corpse preserves the remains by using chemicals to delay decomposition. Often this is done to maintain the integrity of the body for public viewing at a funeral, for religious reasons, and in some cases for use as anatomical specimens for study. The embalming process is used to sanitize the body, prepare it for presentation and preserve it.
The chemicals used to embalm consist of various additives, disinfecting agents, preservatives and sanitizers which work to give the body a natural appearance for viewing and to delay decomposition. The chemical mixture of these chemicals is called embalming fluid. It can preserve bodies for a very short period of time or indefinitely, making it difficult for investigators to determine when the head was embalmed.
Finding the head in an embalmed state gives police reason to believe that the woman was not murdered, but it does not completely erase the possibility that a crime was committed. Pennsylvania law makes it a criminal act to abuse a corpse.
By Jennifer Pfalz
Photo by Tony Webster – License