A Cody duck hunter and his son came upon the corpse — which was missing the head and an arm, among other damage — a little before noon on Thursday. It was about a mile and a half off of Wyo. Highway 294, up an unmarked dirt road that provides access to some ponds and badlands. The sheriff’s office says a forensic pathologist estimated the man had died two days earlier, on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
“We don’t have enough details yet in this investigation to know what we’re dealing with at this time,” Park County Sheriff Scott Steward said at a Friday afternoon news conference. “Certainly, I think people should be alert. I can’t tell you if it was a random act or something else, so certainly people need to be aware of their surroundings, and if they see something suspicious, let us know.”
Steward declined to provide details about some of the injuries, but his answers to questions from the media indicated authorities were unable to obtain any fingerprints from the man’s body.
“I think it’s probably safe to assume, given the condition of the body, that whoever did this probably does not want us to identify the body, so it makes our job a little bit harder,” said Lance Mathess, the sheriff’s office’s public information officer.
“They didn’t go to great lengths to conceal the body,” Steward said, noting the body was found only 10 or 12 feet off the dirt road. “So I would venture to guess their objective there was to keep us from identifying him.”
The road, informally known as Little Sand Coulee Road, begins not far from the base of the Badger Basin hill and accesses federal and state lands on the west of Wyo. 294. It’s a little more than 10 miles northwest of Powell and a couple miles north of the Heart Mountain area.
Investigators — who include personnel from the sheriff’s office, Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation and Bureau of Land Management — shut off access to the road from Thursday through Friday afternoon as they worked the scene. Personnel guarded the body overnight while DCI crime lab workers were en route, Mathess said.
Park County Coroner Tim Power removed the body Friday afternoon, and an autopsy was conducted Saturday. Mathess said Monday that an exact cause of death has yet to be determined, as well as whether the man was killed at the scene or somewhere else.
Steward indicated investigators have ruled out the possibility that wildlife damaged the body, saying “there was no activity from animals whatsoever.”
This time of year, hunters use the road, while in warmer temperatures, “it’s an area that’s pretty notorious for college keggers,” Steward said.
He speculated the road is accessed multiple times a day, though trips up as far as the body’s location are more infrequent.
“Anybody that’s been out that road in the last week, no matter whether they think they saw something or not, we’d probably like to talk to them,” said Mathess.
Steward said that could help investigators pin down the timeline.
Authorities also are releasing details of the man’s description and clothing in hopes someone can identify him.
The sheriff’s office says the body appears to belong to a Caucasian or very light-skinned Hispanic man under the age of 35 who likely worked in agriculture or on a ranch.
Described as “stocky” and in good physical condition at the time of his death, the man appears to have been between 5 feet 4 inches and 5 feet 6 inches tall and 180 to 200 pounds.
The man was found wearing 36x30 blue jeans, a dark blue button-down short-sleeve shirt and brown, size 10 1/2 Ariat work boots. The man was also wearing a 38-inch long brown belt with a distinctive braided design that includes depictions of Brahman cattle and a buckle with the image of a horse head.
Photos of the belt and boots can be viewed with the online version of this story.
The sheriff asked anyone with information to immediately contact his office at 307-527-8700.
Steward said the man’s blood and tissues will be analyzed by the Wyoming State Crime Laboratory and the information entered into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, known as CODIS.
“The director down there (for the crime lab) has informed us that’s going to be his priority to get that done for us so we can try to get an identification as soon as possible,” Steward said.
CODIS includes several DNA databases, including one that contains profiles of missing persons.
While it’s a priority, Steward said identification “is going to take a while, more than likely,” unless someone steps forward to identify the body.
For one example, what if the man lived by himself and has yet to be reported as missing?
“There’s so many factors in there that, who knows? It could be tomorrow, today or who knows how long before we get any information on a missing person,” Steward said.
He said investigators did not have any suspects but were pursuing some leads.
The road in question should not be confused with the more heavily used route further north that connects 294 with Wyo. Highway 120 and is officially known as the Little Sand Coulee Road.