Skulls found in Angeles forest a jigsaw puzzle

By Ari B. Bloomekatz

One of the skulls was marked by a large circular hole in the forehead, which authorities suspect was a bullet wound.

The other, found roughly 25 to 50 yards away in a remote section of the Angeles National Forest, showed signs of severe trauma.

On Monday, a forensic anthropologist and other investigators examined the skulls and other human bones found in the area last week. The bones are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that authorities hope will lead them to the identities of the victims and eventually to who or what killed them.

The Los Angeles County coroner's office said Monday the deaths appear suspicious but that officials won't know for sure until more tests are done.

"It appears that both of them are homicides, but we're not going to say right now," said Ed Winter of the coroner's office.

Winter said a forensic anthropologist was poring over the bones, trying to match up which pieces belonged to which skull.

Then will come the task of pinning down the race, age and sex of each set of remains. Investigators hope to have that done by the end of the week.

Authorities will comb through missing-persons databases and local and federal law enforcement records, searching for possible matches. Investigators will then use various means, such as dental records, to try to identify the remains.

Homicide detectives aren't likely to jump on the case until the coroner can provide a cause of death, as well as identifications.

Right now, there are few clues.

One of the skulls shows signs that it could have been burned during last summer's Station fire, suggesting the remains might have been there before the fire started. The other was found buried under a couple of inches of dirt, Winter said.

Law enforcement authorities and coroner's investigators are unsure how long the remains had been there.

The remains were found near a turnout off Angeles Forest Highway near Lucas Creek.

The first skull was found by two hikers Thursday; the second was found Saturday by a team of detectives, archaeologists and other investigators.

One tool investigators used to find the bones was a cadaver dog, a German shepherd called Indiana Bones, that was able to sniff out some of the remains.

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