Police said a human skeleton was found in woods off Rice Road near the Mohawk River Thursday and they are treating the discovery as a homicide.
Rotterdam Deputy Chief Bill Manikas said police have not determined the cause of death, so the protocol is to conduct a homicide investigation. “We’re investigating it at this point,” he said.
Manikas said a man spotted the skeleton in a wooded area off the bike path shortly before 8:15 a.m. He said the remains were not a full skeleton and had been in the woods for “a substantial period of time.”
The gender of the skeleton is unknown, Manikas said. He said the body, which was partially clothed, did not have an identification. “There was some clothing recovered,” he said. “But at this point, we have no ID of the body.”
Manikas said anyone with information about the remains should call 355-7397. Rotterdam detectives are working with the state police Forensic Identification Unit and the Troop G Major Crimes Unit in the investigation.
Lauren LaFleur of the Center for Human Identification at the University of North Texas said science can identify people from DNA that is several years old. “As long as there is recoverable DNA and a family member provides DNA, a match can be found,” she said.
The center has worked with law enforcement agencies across the United States and is the only academic institution devoted to missing persons identification. LaFleur did not know if local officials have contacted the center for assistance, and would not be able to comment if they did.
LaFleur said police can upload the DNA sample into a national database, called the national Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, to find a match. For a match to occur, however, a family member has to have provided a DNA sample as well. “Any family member from across the United States who has someone who is missing can submit a DNA sample free of charge,” she said.
The genetic profile can determine gender but its prime purpose is to “put a name to that person and find out who they belong to,” LaFleur said.
The process can take several days, if the DNA sample is good, to several months, LaFleur said. If there is no family marker, a sample can remain in the system for years, she said.
Last week, relatives of 16 missing people gave DNA samples through New York’s Department of Criminal Justice Services for the national database. The Center for Human Identification is processing the samples. “We are one of three institutions in the United States that can upload information into the CODIS,” LaFleur said.
Mary Lyall, whose daughter Suzanne Lyall went missing in 1998, said the discovery of the skeleton can bring relief but also more questions. “It is finally an answer to a question for a lot of people who have someone missing. If it happens to be a missing person, there is one door closed, but there is always the question of how it happened,” she said.
Lyall said she and her husband want to find their daughter. And any news they can receive is helpful. “I never say the word closure. For me there is never going to be closure. If you find your loved one you will always wonder what happened,” she said.
Here is a list of known missing persons from the Capital Region:
Kellisue M. Ackernecht of Johnstown, missing since Sept. 30, 2008.
Frank Connell of Rensselaer, missing since April 20, 2007.
Craig Frear of Scotia, missing since June 26, 2004.
Jennifer M. Hammond of Ballston Spa, missing since August 2003.
Audrey May Herron of Catskill, missing since Aug. 29, 2002.
Suzanne Lyall of Milton, missing since March 2, 1998.
Ernest P. Michalik of Schenectady, missing since October 2005.
Tammie Anne McCormick of Saratoga Springs, missing since April 1986.
Jaliek Rainwalker of Greenwich, missing since Nov. 1, 2007.
Karen Wilson of Albany, missing since March 1985.
William F. Woolheater of Albany, missing since February 1981.