In what looked like a scene from an archaeological dig, a forensic scientist and four of his graduate students on Friday joined Hammond, Ind., police on a quest for clues after apparent human bones were found on the site earlier this week.
Armed with shovels and rakes, anthropology and biology professor Stephen Nawrocki and his students from the University of Indianapolis worked on the site, at 1718 Indianapolis Blvd., to exhume additional remains that'd been found.
After two days on the scene, authorities from the Hammond Police Department and the Lake County Coroner's Office reached a preliminary finding: the remains belong to a female, a determination largely based on a ring unearthed by a Rottweiler.
"It was a very small ring," said Hammond Police Chief Brian Miller. "It was a cross. It looked like a first communion ring or a confirmation ring."
The dog -- Brutus -- belongs to Mike Bender. Brutus took an interest in the site days before he came up with bones.
"He'd been trying to get into this rubble for a couple of days. It’s been irritating him," said Bender, who owns a wireless cell phone store next store. "When he came back he had something in his mouth... It looked like chicken bones or something. I noticed he had something else in his mouth. Took that out and it had a ring on it. I decided we should go back. He dug up a plastic bag and there was a skull in there."
Miller said the investigation, at this point, suggests the remains had been there awhile.
"I don't know how long, but certainly several years," he said.
For nearly 20 years, a bait and tackle shop operated at the building where the bones were found. It was then abandoned for about a decade before the city condemned the building. Its history generated all kinds of theories among bystanders.
"Maybe somebody dumped it," speculated one Hammond resident.
"I thought it was a little girl," said another.
Miller said there have been countless tips about missing persons, relatives, friends and other guesses since the discovery. He said his officers have canvassed the area to question merchants about the demolished building and the bait and tackle shop that once ran its business here.
While they've gotten cooperation, Miller said there have been no breaks in the case about the identity of the remains, her age or how she died.
But, he said, he predicts the investigation will lead to some of those answers any day now.