Banks, COMMUNITY, News

Banks man buys a car, finds human skull

A Banks man got more than he bargained for after winning a used car at auction in April.

After taking possession of the vehicle, the Banks man began cleaning and repairing the vehicle the next day.

On April 21, he popped open the trunk and found a human skull.

He called police, and a Washington County Sheriff’s Office deputy assigned to the city of Banks responded, saw the skull and decided that it sure looked like a human skull. That deputy called the Washington County Medical Examiner, who drove to Banks and concurred that it did, indeed, seem to be a human skull.

The Washington County Medicolegal Death Investigator—that’s a trained forensic investigator tasked with responding to the scene of such cases—took the skull and transported it to the State Medical Examiner, part of the Oregon State Police according to Washington County Public Information Officer Anel Cerić. The state maintains a forensic laboratory in Clackamas.

This newspaper inquired about the skull incident in May—a barebones description of the incident was included in the April 2023 Police Log released in May—but was told more information would be forthcoming after an analysis of at least six to eight weeks.

On Thursday, July 6, Cerić gave this newspaper a more detailed rundown of what had happened.

After the skull made its way to the State Medical Examiner, it was examined by State Forensic Anthropologist Dr. Nici Vance.

“It was then determined that the skull was non-forensic and non-contemporary,” Cerić said.

While the state was examining the skull, detectives with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office Violent Crimes Unit were conducting their own investigation to track down the owners of the car the skull was found in.

Detectives learned from the prior car owner that the skull had been in their family’s possession for decades and was accidently left in the car.

From there, the skull was referred to State Physical Anthropologist Dr. Elissa Bullion to determine the origin of the skull.

Vance referred the skull to the State Physical Anthropologist, Doctor Elissa Bullion, to determine the origin of the skull.

Ultimately, Vance and Bullion notified Washington County Sheriff’s Office detectives that they did not believe the skull was involved in a criminal case.

Ownership of human remains is a bit of a grey area, with differing state laws defining what is and is not allowed. At the federal level, other than the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, there is no law prohibiting the transfer or possession of human remains.

A number of legitimate reasons exist for the possession of human remains—medical, artistic, spiritual—and the internet has given rise to an easily accessed marketplace of skulls and bones.

So what should you do if you find a skull in the trunk of your car?

”For a situation like this, I would say call 911,” Cerić advised.

Chas Hundley is the editor of the Banks Post and sister news publications the Gales Creek Journal and the Salmonberry Magazine. He grew up in Gales Creek and has a cat.

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