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Where We Left Off:
The Cook and The Grumpy Old Man found an ancient artifact buried in the fireplace.
A Blueprint for Murder:
The backyard had gone through a lot of commotions at the end of the summer. At one point, there was a trench. I wish it had been a moat with a lovely bridge, but it was a trench. It wasn’t for anything exciting either. Just pipes for drainage. Water was getting into the house on the ground floor rather than only the creepy cellar.
Regardless, a lot of rain made things difficult. The trench was filled in, but rain kept washing away the soil and grass seeds. I noticed that by October, the grass had grown in, but the ground is still uneven. This makes it challenging to walk and push Oliver in his buggy.
I was discussing our lack of eyewitness accounts of the local wildlife and cryptids with Ollie and Gus. They have been more focused on the feline intruders than anyone else. We have gathered excellent data this year from the trail cameras especially the second one which seems to be a hot spot location for activity.
In September on a couple of our patrols, we discovered two different rib bones on different days. The first was found right next to the flower bed of dead peonies which line the Moretti Rock Fortress on the outside from one corner to another. Approximately in the middle of that length, the first bone was spotted. I thought it was a branch at first. There seemed to be a constant need to pick up branches (from twig size to full grown logs) every day.
I showed the rib to Oliver and Gus for their cursory examination of the evidence. All of us agreed it was from a large mammal.
A few days later, Gus and I found another rib in Gnome Grove. Though the caged compost pile is located nearby, we don’t put meat or bones in there. Plus, the last ribs I think The Grumpy Old Man ate were pork and that was weeks after we found these bones.
For the following days when it was not raining, the cats and I tried to find more bone evidence. The trail would have been from the busy street through the yard and into the woods—or the other way around. I’ve seen other people’s photos on Facebook showing coyotes, but neither of our trailcams have seen those. We’ve had steady visits from foxes and rare visits from bobcats. The bears are opportunistic eaters but they definitely prefer vegetation over meat. I think if you put out a roasted chicken and a big brick of birdseed with peanut butter, they’d go for the seeds first. I could be wrong. As you’ve seen from the unfortunate news, bears have been known to ingest things that are not food, like kilos of cocaine. That poor bear.
Incidentally, it was Fat Bear Week! Fat Bear Week (brown bears) returned to Katmai National Park & Preserve this October 4 – 10. These bears eat a lot more fish than our local bears. Otis has been quite the champion, but in 2022 the title went to 747. The Juniors round included not only an overall winner but also The Floofiest Caboose. Update: Grazer is the new Champion!
Who was this victim?
Back to the matter at hand, these were not bones from a fish nor a chicken. We were looking for a large mammal, whoever killed it, and whoever ate it. Part of living where we do is that deer and many other animals including pets get hit in the streets and become roadkill. The scavengers can then feast. It helps if the deer has enough life in it to get off the road before dying. If it doesn’t, sometimes road crews will move them, but that depends on the town.
“It seems unlikely a fox, even a big one, could take down a deer of this size,” Oliver said.
I agreed that the ribs were likely a deer—or a Jersey devil-deer hybrid. Unfortunately, my favorite site for researching bones, boneid.net, did not have any human ribs listed. I found a PDF from the State Museum in Arizona that had a photo of a deer rib compared to a human rib. Jackpot! Human ribs are more curved.
Even with partial bones, we can tell the angle on the longer bone because we can tell which end is the head (attachment point to the vertebrae) since there is part of the tubercle present. The ribs in the middle of the rib cage (ribs 4-7) flare out more on the end that attaches in front of the body to cartilage and then the sternum. With that in mind, I believe these two ribs are from opposite sides—one from the left, one from the right.
With this little to go on, we still can’t tell whether it’s a white-tailed deer or a Jersey devil-deer, but it’s definitely one of the two. That’s as close as we get to solve the mystery of the victim.
Who did it?
Bobcats can easily take down fawns, but these ribs look like they’re from an adult.
Hunters? Fall archery season did start in September. The earliest date for firearms seems to be November 20, 2023. Sometimes, after being hit with a weapon, the animal will get away. The hunter has to be good enough to track and follow trails of blood or signs of the injured animal. Once in a while, they never find their victim.
This also happens when an animal is hit by a vehicle. It’s not uncommon for a deer to limp away and die somewhere else off the road. I guess it depends which bones are broken.
These bones have so much damage from scavenger activity and there’s no body, per se. We can’t tell for sure what the cause of death is, but Ollie and Gus agree that it most likely from a vehicle collision. Then the body was separated by different animals. The woods across the street aren’t the safest for hiking because there’s a significant drop; we haven’t check over there for more bones. Nor have we gone exploring in the woods behind us since Lord Theodore bought the estate.
We may never know who hit this victim. That will remain unsolved.
Who ate the victim?
None of us think a human was able to harvest this body for food. Vultures and other birds may have filled up on the meat, but these bones show obvious signs of small mammal teeth. I compared the bite marks to the beaver skull I have and it looks like the size of those teeth are pretty close. The team believes the last animal to gnaw on these ribs would be something smaller than beaver.
Teeth sizes also vary from young animals to adults. I’m not an expert on teeth (yet) which makes this a bit tougher to determine.
“Those sharp teeth that foxes possess are not fangs. They are elongated canines.” AnimalFoodPlanet.com
Maybe, technically those long teeth on Gus wouldn’t be called fangs (I did notice that his doctor wouldn’t call them that), but I still think of them as fangs. I mean “canines?” Why are those teeth named for dogs? I think we’ve approached that same territory as “hair” versus “fur”—they’re the same thing.
It seems the answer to this part of the mystery is that various animals ate this particular victim. It’s large size means it’s great for a huge feast. Vultures, crows, hawks, owls, coyotes, bobcats and their young, foxes and their young, raccoons, and rodents. Any or all of them could have partaken in consuming this body transforming it from roadkill to meals.
The two bones found on the property were identified as rib bones from a large mammal—either a white-tailed deer or a Jersey devil-deer. The victim was likely killed by a hit and run motor vehicle collision. Perhaps, the assailant didn’t “run” away; a large deer can destroy a car and require a tow truck to haul it from the scene. With this amount of evidence, this the most we can do to solve this murder.
Case Status: Closed
- Watson, J.T. and McClelland, J. (2018) Distinguishing human from animal bone – University of Arizona, statemuseum.arizona.edu. Available at: https://statemuseum.arizona.edu/sites/default/files/Distinguishing%20Human%20From%20Animal%20Bone%20%28Watson%20and%20McClelland%202018%29.pdf (Accessed: 03 October 2023).