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Beached human skull fragment is puzzle to be pondered

A portion of a human skull found on a well-walked beach near South Whidbey State Park last week is a puzzle to be solved.

Found in the early evening by someone walking the beach, the piece of cranium was identified by Island County Coroner Robert Bishop as being human.

With just two teeth attached to it and no jaw bone, the fragment could be important to solving a missing persons case. The trouble will be to find out which missing persons case.

This week, Bishop said the 5-inch-wide skull fragment came from someone who died in recent years. After looking at the teeth -- which he described as "pearly white" -- and unsuccessfully examining the bluff above the beach for more remains, Bishop said he believes the fragment is not an ancient artifact. It is likely, he said, that it washed up on the beach recently.

To match it with a missing person will take some doing, he said. The fragment will be examined by a forensic archeologist this week for any clues that might lead Bishop and law enforcement to a specific missing persons case. If nothing comes of that examination, Bishop will try to have a DNA sample extracted from the bone or tooth canal to try to match it with missing persons DNA samples on file in Washington.

The test could cost upward of $300 he said, if the state's crime lab can do the extraction successfully for Island County. It may be that there simply is not enough genetic material left to get any DNA.

"It's well worn," he said of the skull.

Bishop said he expects testing to take a couple weeks. Even if he is able to make an identity match, he said it will be next to impossible to determine the cause or manner of death.

Though there there are some missing persons cases open currently in Island County, Bishop did not speculate as to who the fragment might belong to. Chances are, he said, that the bone drifted in from the Seattle area.

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