A day after Maize police found a decomposing body in the back seat of a car parked at an apartment complex, the police chief said it is being investigated as a suspicious death and that identification could take months.
The autopsy was under way Tuesday, Maize Police Chief Matt Jensby said. It’s likely that dental records will be needed to positively identify the body, and that could take a couple of months, he said.
“It appeared to be male, but we’re not 100 percent sure of that,” he said. The body was clothed and had on a heavy winter coat, he said.
Jensby said police do not think that residents in the apartment complex where the car was found are in any danger.
Nearly three months before Maize police found Adam Sabri’s white Saturn with a decomposing body in the back seat, his adult daughter reported to Wichita police that he had not returned from work.
Early Feb. 10, Sabri’s daughter told police that she had tried to reach him several times but couldn’t because his cellphone was turned off, a Wichita police incident report says. He had been missing since then.
On Monday, Maize police found Sabri’s 2008 Saturn Aura in a busy parking lot at the Fieldstone Apartments complex in the 5000 block of North Maize Road. A resident called 911 to a report a stench around the car, where flies were swarming. In the back seat of the locked car, officers found a body in an advanced stage of decomposition. They were awaiting autopsy findings to determine who it is and how the person died.
McPherson police Capt. Kevin McKean said the only thing that his agency knows for sure is that the vehicle with the body is owned by Sabri, who owns a sports bar and grill in McPherson.
“He was very well liked here in McPherson,” McKean said Tuesday morning.
Decomposing bodies can present challenges for investigators trying to determine the cause of death and the identity.
Still, “we have a variety of tools available to us to make that positive ID,” said Tim Rohrig, director of the Sedgwick County Regional Forensic Science Center.
Investigators can get fingerprints even on some decomposed bodies, and they can be compared to a print if it is on file, Rohrig said, speaking generally, not about the Maize body case.
If authorities have an idea of who the person might be, they can hunt down dental records and compare those to X-rays of the teeth, he said.
Another option: the presence of medical appliances – for example, a pacemaker with identifying numbers.
DNA comparison with a relative is a last resort because of the expense, Rohrig said.
In trying to determine the cause of death, it depends on the level of decomposition and the environment in which the body was found, Rohrig said. It often hinges on environmental factors, including things like the temperature, humidity level and the presence of animals or insects.
Jensby, the Maize police chief, said Monday that the body could have been decomposing for weeks or months.
An apartment complex resident who called 911 Monday morning about the bad smell told The Eagle that he thought the car had been parked in the same spot for about a month. Through the tinted windows, he could see a long-handled shovel resting against the front seat but didn’t look into the back seat, he said. Jensby said officers found a snow shovel.
Rohrig said a forensic examination of a decomposed body can detect some injuries, such as, for example, a gunshot wound that damages the skull. Decomposition makes it difficult to detect natural disease.
X-rays are a key tool, allowing examiners to study a number of images from a variety of angles.
In rare cases, Rohrig said, the coroner might have to find that the cause of death is undetermined.
Decomposition also presents difficulty determining whether a person consumed drugs. That’s because the byproducts of decomposition can mask the presence of drugs, Rohrig said. Also, decomposition itself can create alcohol through fermentation.