A former Seattle business owner has been accused of transporting over two dozen human limbs and heads from Washington state and dumping them in remote parts of Arizona.
Walter Mitchell, 59, who previously owned a business that managed research cadavers, was arrested in Scottsdale on Tuesday and charged with 28 counts of moving bodies with the intention of abandoning them, according to the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office.
Five heads and two dozen limbs, including arms and legs, have been recovered in two different areas since the day after Christmas. Authorities said unspecified materials found along with the bodies suggested all of the remains were abandoned by the same person.
“This situation is unimaginable, and I am so sorry for the families whose loved ones were donated to research and treated in such a horrific fashion,” Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher, who retires Friday, said in a statement on Tuesday. “I want to thank the community for their patience as we investigated this case and am very proud of our detectives, staff, and volunteers for the work they did to identify and arrest the suspect so quickly.”
Mascher said that he devoted significant resources to the case early on, and also involved his successor in the investigation, as it was important to rule out a serial killer as the culprit.
“The disrespect shown to the deceased in this case by those who were charged with caring for their remains is abhorrent and intolerable,” said Sheriff-elect David Rhodes in a statement. “Today’s arrest is a big step in getting accountability and honor for those whose remains were so cavalierly treated.”
A similar incident prompted a scare earlier this year when a contractor inspecting a home in Gainsville, Florida, discovered six gallon-sized jars of preserved human tongues in a crawlspace, reports The Washington Post. The contractor promptly ran outside the house and called the police.
A subsequent investigation revealed that the jars were the property of Ronald Baughman, a researcher and former professor of oral medicine at the University of Florida, who acquired them in the 1960s for research, but forgot about them when he moved out of the home decades later.
Baughman told WCJB in an interview that he needed to store the jars in a cool area because of the humidity in Florida and that the crawl space provided such a place. When he and his wife divorced, however, the jars of preserved tongues were forgotten about, and stayed in the crawl space, only to be found decades later by a complete stranger.
“We’ve got no indication that they were trying to hide anything from us or be deceptive about anything,” a university of Florida spokesperson told the local news outlet. “They’ve been forthcoming from the getgo. That’s why in our preliminary investigation we don’t think we have anything criminal, we just need to verify everything.”