Metro-East News

Police working to determine if car left at hotel is connected to decomposed body

Authorities updated the public Wednesday morning and said they were still working to identify the badly decomposed body found Tuesday night behind a gas station near Belleville.

Police say a tow yard worker was feeding stray cats in the field behind the Conoco building, at 1424 Centreville Ave., and detected an odor. He called police around 6 p.m. and the body was discovered.

Investigators believe it is possible the body had been there for seven or eight days.

An autopsy performed on Wednesday afternoon confirmed that the body was of a white man, around the age of 25 to 35. It did not appear that the body had any trauma or injuries, Capt. Bruce Fleshren of the St. Clair Sheriff’s Department said in a news release.

A cause of death had not been identified after the autopsy and toxicology results were pending Wednesday night.

“Right now we are focusing on who this person is,” Fleshren said during a press conference.

He added that while the body was found under suspicious circumstances he cannot say whether foul play was involved. The body was not visible from the gas station, Fleshren said, and it was not on property owned by the station.

“We are following up on some leads, there was an unattended vehicle at the hotel next door,” he said, adding that police are working to determine if the two are connected.

On Wednesday night, Fleshren said that the owner of the vehicle had been located and revealed that the car had been used by another person, who police are now looking to interview.

The Best Royal Inn is located next door to the Conoco station, at 1438 Centrville Ave.

This is the second body found in the Belleville area this year. In late March, a man’s decomposed body was found in a heavily wooded area in a ravine near the 300 block of North 66th Street in Belleville.

Those remains were later identified by the family as Lee Howard Berryman, 59, of St. Louis. His son Graham Berryman told the Belleville News-Democrat that his father had no connections to the metro-east.

The investigation into Berryman’s death is ongoing but no foul play is suspected, Master Sgt. Todd Keilbach, of the Belleville police, said in late August.

So how do investigators determine the timeline of a person’s death and identify the remains?

Scientists can track how a body decomposes — which tissues break down first, how insects go to work — but how long it takes for a person’s body to go from complete to skeletal depends on several variables.

Then scientists take forensic cases to build a “biological profile,” Corey Ragsdale, a professor in anthropology at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, told the BND previously.

That includes stature or height of the person, the estimated birth sex, an age estimate that can be accurate within five years, and what they call “ancestry,” or if the person is from European, Asian or African ancestry.

Mary Cooley: 618-239-2535, @MaryCooleyBND
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