Justin Burnett/The Record — Clinton resident and picker John Norris poses for a photo with some of the items he found in a purchased storage unit. He also found the white sack, which contains what appears to be a human skull.

Clinton man finds skull in storage unit

A Whidbey Island picker’s score of a lifetime came with an unexpected and rather grisly discovery — an apparent human skull.

Clinton resident John Norris recently paid $1,200 at auction for a unit at Waterman Self Storage. He opened the door to find guns, jewelry, tools, sporting equipment, valuable collectibles and antiques.

It was enough to fill his entire garage and then some.

“It was the home run of home runs,” said Norris, estimating the haul at $30,000.

But the auction purchase came with an even bigger discovery — in the very back of the unit, wrapped in tissue paper inside of a white paper bag was a skull, one that appears to be human.

Norris said he also found a few other suspicious items, including two birth certificates, 15 titles to vehicles, and at least one property deed in a locked box.

He turned those finds over to the Island County Sheriff’s Office.

Norris said police later informed him that the recovered documents were taken during burglaries on Whidbey Island.

Patrol Sgt. Darren Crownover confirmed a case has been opened, but said it’s too soon to draw conclusions, or even be suspicious that a crime occurred.

Police don’t even know for sure whether the skull is human, he said. If it is, it could be Native American, an early settler, or a skull that’s not from Whidbey Island.

“I don’t have enough to say whether it’s strange or not,” Crownover said.

The skull is small, possibly that of a child. It is missing the lower jaw and most of its teeth. The bottom portion is also caked in dirt, which might suggest it was once buried. It doesn’t appear to have a serial number, usually found on skulls used for teaching purposes.

“It’s old, but I’m no skull expert, you know what I’m saying,” Norris said. “For all I know it could be a chimpanzee skull.”

The Island County Coroner’s Office will take custody of the remains this week, Crownover said.

The coroner’s office will examine them and, if necessary, turn them over to state specialists to determine whether they are Native American.

Detective Sgt. Laura Price, who has investigated cold case files for the sheriff’s office, said it’s been a “long, long” time since Whidbey had a missing juvenile case. She only knows of two — both teenage boys — but expressed doubt that the skull found belongs to either.

“I can’t even think of a case that would fit this,” she said.

Price said finding Native American remains isn’t common but not unheard of either; some were found just a couple years ago at a building site in Mutiny Bay.

It’s much rarer to find human remains believed to be connected to a homicide or missing person, such as a partial skull found on Maxwelton Beach in late 2010, she said. That case remains open.

As of Tuesday, police hadn’t confirmed the identity of the former owner of the storage unit’s contents, but Price said the person they believe had the unit is known to local law enforcement and may be in jail.

“He collects stuff,” she said. “It could have come from any one of a hundred things.”

Norris said he’s cooperating fully with police and is willing to have deputies look through the rest of the items from the unit and return anything positively identified as stolen to their owners.

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