Police turn to forensics to solve mystery of bodies found in suitcases

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Ashley Luthern/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wednesday, June 11, 2014

TOWN OF GENEVA—Few details have been released since the discovery Thursday of two women's bodies in two suitcases along a country road in the town of Geneva in Walworth County.

Geneva police continued to investigate Wednesday as questions remained:

Who were the women? Where did they come from? How did they die? And how did they end up inside suitcases on the side of North Como Road?

Police Chief Steven R. Hurley was not available for comment Wednesday, and his department had no additional information to release. Earlier this week, police said more updates might not be available for a few days.

A supervisory special agent at the FBI's Milwaukee division confirmed Tuesday the agency is involved in the investigation but said he could not provide any information about the agency's role in the case.

Though the investigation seems, at least publicly, to have more questions than answers, forensic investigators have begun to gather evidence.

Autopsies on the female bodies were conducted by the Waukesha County medical examiner's office, because Walworth County—where the remains were discovered—does not have a medical examiner. Additional test results are pending in the autopsies.

For the past six years, forensic investigator Michael Simley has worked for the Milwaukee County medical examiner's office, which is not investigating the remains found in the suitcases.

"A former medical examiner here was from New York City and he said at least maybe five or six times a year they'd see body parts in a suitcase. You rarely get stuff like this here," said Simley, who spoke generally about such investigations.

If possible, forensic investigators use fingerprints, DNA or dental comparisons to identify individuals. But identification can hinge on information entered into missing persons databases or reported to authorities. That information then can be linked to the recovered forensic evidence.

Authorities have not indicated if they have identified the women found inside the suitcases in Walworth County, nor have they disclosed the condition of the bodies.

The motorist who noticed the suitcases and called police told WTMJ-TV that the travel-sized bags—one pink, one black—were bulging.

"I'd have to say, I mean, I'm just a landscaper so I don't know, but I'm just saying there's no way the body could have been intact," Dan Sojka told the TV station. "It had to be very decomposed or cut up, or very, very small human beings."

Sojka, 39, was heading back to his town of Geneva landscaping business, C & D Landscaping and Design, when he noticed the suitcases about two feet from the road, he told The Gazette.

The suitcases were about 30 inches tall and maybe 24 inches wide, he said.

Sojka was on the phone with his sister when he saw them. He said there were “tons of flies around them and maggots.”

The condition of the remains depends on the environment and can help indicate when a death occurred.

"It's not like on TV, when they say the liver temperature is this, so she died an hour and 12 minutes ago. That is absolutely false," Simley said. "Things do happen to the body and that help us to gauge a window of time."

Investigators also look for signs of trauma as they try to determine a cause of death.

The Walworth County sheriff's office, the Wisconsin Department of Justice's Division of Criminal Investigations, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are assisting the Town of Geneva Police Department with the investigation.

Geneva Chief Hurley has said that "no crime was committed here" where the bodies were found, meaning the women were brought to the area from another location, and he called it an "isolated incident."

"It is our goal to keep the community safe and there is no reason to believe that they are at risk of any danger," read a Tuesday post on the police department's Facebook page.

Sojka drives on North Como Road several times a week, and he is not concerned about living in the town because “it’s a safe area,” he said.

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