Was it murder or a natural death?

This face mask of a person found dead in Idaho County was reconstructed by a forensic anthropologist, based on skeletal features of a 40-something-year-old man found dead in a sleeping bag in September 1984 near Powell.

GRANGEVILLE - The human remains are lovingly referred to by the detectives at the Idaho County Sheriff's Office as "Mr. Bones."

It's what's left of an unidentified man whose body was discovered by hunters in the Idaho County wilderness in September 1984.

Detective Jerry Johnson with the sheriff's office said it's not certain whether Mr. Bones was the victim of a homicide. A recent forensic analysis of the remains by the University of North Texas cast doubt on an earlier autopsy that determined the man had likely died from a stab wound.

But an ongoing investigation by the FBI of a serial killer in another state leaves open the possibility that Mr. Bones was the victim of a crime.

When the body was found by hunters at a secluded campsite about 14 miles south of Powell near Elk Summit it was clad in a pair of cotton pants, two shirts and a leather jacket with some change in one of the pockets.

Parts of a broken set of eyeglasses also were found with the body, while several hundred yards away investigators found the remaining parts of the glasses.

The body was sent to the Pathologists' Regional Laboratory at Lewiston and a Grangeville dentist examined the skull.

Then-Sheriff Rodger W. Laughlin speculated the man could be James Schroeder, 23, of Wisconsin, who had disappeared two years earlier while hunting with companions near Old Man Lake on the Lochsa River, about 50 miles away from where Mr. Bones was found.

Lewiston police also were interested in the discovery. Steven R. Pearsall, 35, who was last seen Sept. 12, 1982, in the Normal Hill area, had not been located. The bodies of two women who had last been seen with Pearsall were discovered a few months later; the victims of murder.

The pathologist's report revealed that the body was that of a male Caucasian, about 40 to 45 years old, approximately 5 feet 6 or 5 feet 7 inches tall. Officials initially believed the person had died from exposure.

But Rodger Hagler, a forensic anthropologist at San Francisco State University, had a different opinion.

Hagler said "a knife-like object with a sharp edge caused an incising wound" between the sixth and seventh left ribs. Hagler theorized the man died as a result of foul play and that he had been dead about two years.

Detective Johnson said there had never been a DNA test done on Mr. Bones' remains and that was why they were sent about a year ago to the University of North Texas. The university offers such testing free of charge to law enforcement agencies, Johnson said.

"We asked for a re-do of the remains (to determine) age, ethnicity and DNA extraction," Johnson said.

The purpose was to collect all the available data that could be entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

Even though investigations may no longer be active, Johnson said, the database allows law enforcement officials and the public to remain up-to-date on such cases.

The University of North Texas review differed from the earlier one. "They didn't agree with (Hagler's) forensic study about the manner of death," Johnson said. "They felt (the wound) was done after death, caused possibly by an animal. So we have a lot more questions than we did have but we do have a DNA" analysis.

The FBI has kept its eye on the case, he added, because of an ongoing investigation of its own involving a known serial killer. Johnson declined to discuss that aspect further but said there may be developments in a few months that could reveal whether there is a connection.

"We're still not sure if this even was a homicide. So the case is still open and we're still looking at all the angles."

Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.