Wednesday | October 18, 2017
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Police, scientists seek clues to identity of remains

Ordinarily, finding bones in a cemetery wouldn’t be considered much of a stretch.

But in the case of an incomplete set of human remains found Monday at the East Hawaii Veterans Cemetery No. 2 in Hilo, there was no record of a body having been buried there, said Lt. Greg Esteban with the Hawaii County Police Department.

“When I first got the call that remains had been found at a cemetery, I was kind of puzzled,” he admitted. “But the guys who were digging the hole knew that something wasn’t right.”

On Monday, county workers were using a backhoe to excavate a plot for a Tuesday burial service when they came across a collection of bones buried about 4 feet deep, Esteban said. They were loose, and there appeared to be no receptacle for them, although they were found with a piece of “fabric-like” material and some kind of cellophane wrapper.

He added there didn’t appear to be any evidence of foul play at first look.

“There appeared to be an absence of any metals, as far as we could tell,” he said.

Even so, Esteban described the discovery as unusual.

“It was curious to us, as well as the employees of the cemetery, because this is the first discovery they’ve made in all these years of excavating the plots for burial,” he said.

“At this point, we’re nowhere close to identifying this person. We did have an archaeologist available who arrived on scene (Monday). He provided us with some preliminary info, including the fact that we don’t believe this appears to be ancient remains.”

He added police researched the area, a new section at the southern end of the cemetery, which didn’t come into use until the early 1990s.

“We’re trying to see if there was any plantation homes here at one time in the past, or any missing individuals in the area,” he said.

The remains were transported to Hilo Medical Center on Monday for a preliminary examination by the medical examiner, he said. They might next be transported to Honolulu to be analyzed by anthropologists with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC).

The joint military-civilian task force is charged with conducting global search, recovery and laboratory operations to identify unaccounted Americans from past conflicts, according to spokeswoman Jamie Dobson, but is also available to help state and local authorities on occasion when resources are available. JPAC employs about 50 scientists, and among them are between 30 and 35 forensic anthropologists who specialize in identifying remains.

“Our forensic anthropologists could provide a biological profile of the remains. It really depends on what they’re asked to analyze,” she said. “If you have a pretty complete set of remains, they can look at certain traits and figure out the sex, race, stature and approximate age at the time of death.”

JPAC assisted the Hawaii County Police with numerous other efforts in the past, Esteban said.

“We’ve used JPAC on prior occasions when they don’t appear to be ancient remains, because this is their area of expertise, and they have great facilities,” he said.

Esteban asked anyone with information about the property or the remains or who might possess historical photos to contact Detective Robert Almeida at 961-2386 or email

Tipsters who prefer to remain anonymous may call Crime Stoppers at 961-8300 in Hilo or 329-8181 in Kona and might be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000. Crime Stoppers is a volunteer program operated by ordinary citizens who want to keep their community safe. Crime Stoppers doesn’t record calls or subscribe to caller ID. All Crime Stoppers information is kept confidential.

Email Colin M. Stewart at


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