Human Remains Found Near River

Human Remains Found Near River (Chicago Tribune)

CHICAGO -- An autopsy today on badly decomposed human remains found along the Des Plaines River revealed little about who the person was and how she or he died.

The Will County coroner's office said DNA testing that may determine the body's identity will take at least two weeks.

There has been speculation the body could be Stacy Peterson, who disappeared from her Bolingbrook home in October 2007, or Lisa Stebic, the Plainfield mother who went missing in April of that year.

While the autopsy indicated that the person has been dead several months or more, it "did not reveal any significant information in reference to the identity, race or sex" of the person, the coroner's office said.

"Positive identification may hinge on forensic DNA analysis" through the state police crime lab, Coroner Patrick K. O'Neil said in a statement.

The remains consisted of a rib cage, spinal column and partial left and right femur bones. The remains were found with shreds of blue jeans containing a small amount of U.S. currency, according to the coroner's office.

The head, arms and parts of the body below the knee were not found with the remains examined today, the coroner's office said. Authorities continue to search for them, officials said.

Authorities said there is no timetable for making a determination on who the person was, and nothing new has came to light that would link the remains to either of the two missing women.

Earlier today, state police said the remains were "severely deteriorated" and "mainly skeletal," cautioning that DNA testing may be needed for positive identification.

This morning, llinois state police dive crews were in the river east of the spot where the remains were found, looking for anything that might be connected to Wednesday's grisly discovery.

Other officers and searchers from the Department of Natural Resources were scouring the shore area for clues.

The remains were found along the banks of the river near Channahon, just west of Interstate Highway 55, an area where searchers have looked for Peterson since she disappeared Oct. 28, 2007.

They were found by Chad Pregracke, the founder of Living Lands & Waters in East Moline, a nonprofit group that cleans up waterways in nine states.

Pregracke, 34, was alone on a 30-foot flat bottom work boat Wednesday shortly before 2:30 p.m., pulling garbage out of the Des Plaines River when he came across the bones.

"When I saw it I stood there for about 10 minutes, just thinking, 'Man, is that what I think it is?'" he said. "I wasn't super freaked out or nothing, but I didn't want to call if it was nothing."

He declined to describe what he saw or where he saw it in any detail, saying he promised state police investigators he would not. After he was certain the remains were human, Pregracke used his cell phone to call state police, and a state trooper was out within about five minutes, he said.

His crews, which are working from a barge, provided investigators with shovels, rakes, boots and tarps, he said. The skiff used to transport the remains to a waiting coroner's van was his, he said.

Pregracke said he was about 10 minutes from leaving to return to the Quad Cities to give a dinner speech to the Pheasants Forever, another conservation group, when he found the remains.

A plastic blue barrel was spotted in the vicinity of the body. Channahon resident Michelle Williams told WGN Radio host John Williams this morning that she and her husband saw the barrel in heavy brush on the riverbank on Sunday and she saw it again on Tuesday.

Drew Peterson's stepbrother, Thomas Morphey, has said that he helped Peterson remove a blue container from Peterson's home on the day that Stacy disappeared, and that he believed Stacy's body was inside it.

But others familiar with the river said blue barrels there are a common sight. Paul Dareak, a bartender at Mugzy's Hideout, a nearby bar, said he sees them all the time and that some people throw them in as a joke, knowing about the possible connection to Stacy Peterson's disappearance.

A group searching for Stacy Peterson last year pulled out more than 20 from the water, he said

Peterson is in jail on murder charges in the 2004 death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. The former Bolingbrook police sergeant has pleaded not guilty. He has not been charged in connection with Stacy Peterson's disappearance, and has denied any responsibility.