4 Chopped-Up Bits of Bodies That Just Kind of Turned Up
Sometimes, when you wander the streets, you stumble on an object a passerby discarded. Maybe you see a soda can or a plastic bag. Or maybe you see an isolated human kidney. “That ain’t right,” you say. “Litter is illegal.”
Correct. Also, murder is illegal, and murder is the most likely explanation. However, with the following stories, either we never do find out for sure that it’s murder, or there’s another explanation, and it’s even weirder.
The Tennessee Salty Heart
Depending on where you live, your local Department of Transportation might keep a huge load of salt on hand, to dump on roads in winter to keep them from freezing over. Such is the case in Humphreys County, Tennessee. Last December, workers around one of these DOT facilities spotted something on top of such a salt pile: a desiccated human heart. It likely had not been desiccated before someone left it there. The salt had sucked all the moisture out of it.
Police dug through the salt, with the assumption that this had to be just one piece of a dismembered body. But they found no signs of other human remains there. Someone had to have extracted a human heart from a body and left the remainder elsewhere. Why? And why had they left the heart here? This spot was both a terribly indiscreet disposal site (the heart was bound to be found) and also not nearly as public a location as a serial killer would like, if terrifying the public were their goal.
A couple weeks ago, Tennessee’s WJKL gave us a follow-up with this all-time great headline:
That headline’s an understatement. A year on, we have all the old questions and zero answers. Well, we have one answer: The heart belonged to a male. Scientists figured out that much by zooming in at its cells. Other than that, they’ve figured out nothing. Last Christmas, someone gave them a heart. By Christmas this year, facts linger unclear.
Three Chunks in Michigan Sewers
Our previous maybe-killer chose to cast their evidence into earth. Our next one chose water. This story goes back to 2012, when a stretch of human skin turned up in the sewers of Macomb County, Michigan. If you were ever thinking about disposing of medium-size body chunks by flushing them, know that sewer lines have grates. Feces and properly designed paper dissolve into wastewater, but something this solid may get trapped, to be found by sewer workers.
This skin was tattooed, female and came from someone 15 to 20 years old. Four months later, sewer workers found new body parts that had been flushed. This skin was also female but showed no signs of tattoos, which doesn’t offer a lot of information, but it’s a start. Some months later, sewer workers made another fresh discovery of skin and fatty tissue. The skin was Caucasian, announced police, because skin color is the easiest attribute to announce when you’re looking at skin.
The most obvious explanation is also the most frightening one: Someone is regularly killing women and flushing their bits. It’s also possible that all these parts belong to the same victim, and a strangely motivated killer froze the body but is disposing of it piece by piece. Police are also entertaining the possibility that this isn’t a matter of murder but might simply be medical waste, improperly discarded. That sounds irresponsible, but there’s an old saying that goes, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”
That saying is called Hanlon’s razor. So, maybe someone cut off this woman’s skin with a razor.
The 54 Siberian Hands
Those discoveries of just a few body parts would seem to be dwarfed by our next find. In 2018, a bag washed on a tiny island in a river in Russia, containing human hands. It contained 54 hands, which added up to 27 pairs of hands removed from 27 unknown people.
This seemingly horrifying event was soon declared by the Russian government not to be so horrifying after all. These trophies were not ritually removed by some especially prolific Siberian serial killer. Instead, they came from a forensic lab. Medical examiners had cut the hands off from unidentified corpses to store them for later fingerprint analysis.
Unfortunately for the maintenance of social order in Russia, skeptics found this explanation unconvincing. If a lab cut off the hands, what drove them to chuck the haul into the river? What sense was there in cutting hands for prints — if you want to store the body, you should store the body, but if all you want are prints, you can simply photograph those. And why could no one point to any handbook that says this is standard procedure, rather than something you do to enemy soldiers during war?
So, people had earlier theorized about some lone killer. Now, they switched to some similar operation either covered up by or carried out by the Russian government. We’d consult with reporters on this story for updates, but it’s safe to assume all are now dead. Over in a drawer somewhere, only their hands remain.
The Leg in the Grill
In 2007, North Carolina man Shannon Whisnant bought a storage shed, because buying discarded storage sheds is like buying lottery tickets. They might hold treasure, and this one turned out to contain a barbecue smoker. The barbecue smoker, when Whisnant opened it, also contained something: a mummified human leg, apparently chopped off someone below the knee. Whisnant did the reasonable thing and called 9-1-1.
He soon learned the leg’s history. It belonged not to a murder victim but an accident victim, one who was still alive. John Wood had flown a plane in 2004, and it crashed, injuring him and killing his father. The hospital amputated the son’s leg, and Wood planned to place the bones in some sort of monument to his father, but the hospital instead presented him with the foot and calf still connected. He now tried freezing it, and after a few people evicted him and his leg from their freezers, he turned to preserving it with formaldehyde.
He stored the leg and grill in his rented shed then fell on hard times and lost access to it. Now, with news of the leg’s discovery out, he got in touch with Whisnant, who realized he loosely knew the Wood family. There was some bad blood there (John’s father refused to hire Shannon’s), and now, Whisnant felt no obligation to be neighborly to John Wood. He’d bought the contents of that shed, so he decided he’d keep that leg. He lacked the sentimental attachment Wood felt for it, but he figured he could charge tourists to come take a peek.
We can’t comment on who had the best legal claim on the leg, but the two of them eventually settled it on the reality show Judge Mathis. Like most such shows, the judge here acts as an arbitrator, which means both parties agree to abide by his decision, which is based on whatever he feels like or is the most entertaining. Mathis awarded the leg to Wood, while also saying he should reimburse Whisnant for what he’d paid.
Whisnant lost the leg, but he harbored greater ambitions. He followed the defeat by announcing he was running for president of the United States in 2016. We haven’t really followed the news lately to see if he has a leg up in the polls, but the clock is ticking, so he better get a leg up. We wish him the best of luck. You know — break a leg.