In the summer of 2013, Heather Hartranft and her boyfriend were enjoying a peaceful hike in the woods along the Susquehanna River in Lower Chanceford Township, York County, when they found something unusual.
“We were just hiking in the woods and stumbled across a bone,” she said.
Hartranft snapped a picture of the bone, and after doing a little research online, she knew she had to call police.
“As I was searching, I realized it started to resemble a human pelvic bone,” she said.
State police called Dr. Dennis Dirkmaat, a forensic anthropologist from Mercyhurst University, who was able to determine it was a human pelvis and several vertebrae. It belonged a male and hadn’t been there for long.
“One week to about three months,” Dirkmaat said, “but that’s a rough guide.”
Dirkmaat also made another important and disturbing finding. It’s something that state police have kept from the public until now; the remains were part of a body that had clearly been cut into pieces.
“It probably represents the activity of somebody who was killed and then dismembered to try to hide the evidence,” Dirkmaat said.
When asked how many dismemberment cases he’s investigated in his career, Cpl. Jonathan Colarusso has a simple answer.
“One,” he said. “It is unusual.”
Colarusso said the case immediately became a homicide investigation. He sifted through more than 200 missing person cases in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware and has no narrowed that search to 20. But of those 20, none has DNA on file.
In terms of what police know about the man; he was determined to be a European white male, at least 30 years of age, but probably over 40.
“That’s all we know,” Colarusso said.
What’s even more puzzling, no other remains were ever found. Dirkmaat believes the pelvis was thrown from River Road over an embankment.
“And I believe there is someone out there that probably has something they can tell us,” Colarusso said. “And what I would say to those people is just to consider the victim’s family.”
Hartranft often thinks about her disturbing discovery that summer day. She wonders who the man was; how he lived, and how he died.
“I know it has been a couple of years, but my heart does go out to the family still looking for their loved one,” she said.
State police are working with other agencies, hoping to collect DNA from the family members of those 20 missing men who have not yet been ruled out.
Anyone with information about these unidentified remains is asked to call state police in York at 717-428-1011.