Forensic scientist studies bones found in chimney

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 27, 2001

With great attention to detail, Dr. Ed Waldrip studied a chimney Saturday in which human remains were discovered last week. &uot;You can never have too much information,&uot; said the director of the Southern Institute of Forensic Science in Hattiesburg. Waldrip came to Natchez to examine the chimney at the River Boat Gift Shop Under-the-Hill and to help identify the skeletal remains.

The remains have tentatively been identified as those of Calvin Wilson, who was 27 and lived at 280 Green Acres Road in Concordia Parish when he disappeared in 1985.

Waldrip, who examined the interior of the fireplace for further evidence, was amazed at the small size of the chimney. The remains were discovered by a local mason last week.

&uot;That isn’t wide at all,&uot; Waldrip said as he peered at a section of the chimney measuring 11 inches by 11 and a half inches, just below where the remains were discovered. &uot;That’s virtually impossible to get through.&uot;

The top section of the chimney measured about 11 inches by 27 inches, Waldrip said. &uot;It would have been hard for someone to try to climb down (the chimney) but it doesn’t rule it out,&uot; he said.

Waldrip said he had several things he hopes to accomplish by studying the chimney and the remains: to identify the remains positively and to determine the cause and manner of death.

Wilson’s sister has said she believes her brother could have been murdered and his body put in the chimney.

But if Wilson was murdered, Waldrip said he cannot understand why the body would have been put in the chimney.

&uot;I’d find a lot of other ways to (dispose of the body) than climb up on this house and drop him in a chimney,&uot; Waldrip said.

Natchez Police Chief Willie Huff agrees.

&uot;If it was foul play, why did they put him in the chimney when the river is right there?&uot; Huff said.

Local law enforcement officers have speculated that Wilson may have been trying to break into the building when he got stuck in the chimney.

Regardless, Waldrip said he is looking into ways to identify the remains positively.

Waldrip was pleased by the efforts of local officials to recover the remains. &uot;You all did an excellent job in recovering (the skeleton),&uot; he said. &uot;We have 99 percent of the skeleton.&uot;

While searching the chimney Saturday, Waldrip also found a toe bone. Waldrip said he wished he also had found some hair at the site because it is useful in identification. Waldrip is examining the rest of the skeleton at his laboratory in Hattiesburg.

According to his initial study, the remains are that of a white male who had suffered a previous back injury. The skeleton shows that the person had healed fractures and a bad back.

&uot;I’m not sure he could stand up straight,&uot; Waldrip said.

If the skeleton is in fact Wilson, the injuries may correspond with injuries Wilson received in a motorcycle accident in 1984, said Adams County Coroner James Lee.

Four things are legally acceptable in identifying human remains: fingerprints, dental records, X-rays or DNA testing, Waldrip said. Neither dental records nor X-rays are available for Wilson. Experts may be able to acquire fingerprints by rehydrating dried skin on the skeleton, but Waldrip said that is not likely to be successful.

&uot;I really think our best approach is going to be DNA,&uot; he said. &uot;DNA with Mom and Dad still alive is positive.&uot;

Waldrip said this is the first time he has ever worked a case involving human remains found in a chimney.

In 1987, Waldrip did a superimposition – or a photograph study – of skeletal remains found that year near International Papers Natchez mill.

Officials had thought those remains might have been Wilson.

In that case, at least 14 of 26 points in the photographs matched, enough points to make a &uot;probable identification,&uot; Waldrip said. That individual had also been a white male of about the same height and build of Wilson and had died from a gunshot wound, Waldrip said.

Lee said he plans to draw blood samples from Wilson’s family Monday for DNA testing. The results will not be finalized for several months.

The skeletal remains will eventually be shipped to Tennessee for examination by Dr. Steve Symes, a forensic anthropologist with the regional crime lab in Memphis.