CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The discovery of an unidentified murder victim's headless body nearly three weeks ago on a remote, dead-end dirt road in Wyoming has stymied investigators and led some residents to speculate that big-league drug violence has reached a rural county just east of Yellowstone National Park.
However, authorities insist they're still looking for a motive for the grisly crime, along with the victim's identity. Duck hunters found the man's body Jan. 9 near the town of Powell.
A pathologist determined the man — no more than 35 years old, about 5-foot-8, and 180 to 200 pounds — was killed by multiple gunshot wounds before he was decapitated. One of his arms also was cut off.
It's believed the man was killed about two days before he was found.
"You've got a body missing an arm and a head, no missing persons reports," Lance Mathess, a spokesman for the Park County Sheriff's Office, said Wednesday. "Nobody's come forward with any solid identification leads at this point, so it really makes it a difficult investigation."
The victim — stocky, physically fit and white or light-skinned Hispanic — was wearing an elaborate, embroidered belt buckle featuring a horsehead. Authorities say that buckle style is similar to craftsmanship from some villages in Mexico and Guatemala.
For that reason, Mathess said his agency believes the man might have been from Mexico or elsewhere south of the border and might have been a farm or ranch worker. Park County has reached out to the FBI, the U.S. Border Patrol and even Interpol, the international police agency, for assistance.
"We're well aware of the pattern of killings, if you will, of drug cartels" in Mexico, Mathess said, citing decapitations of victims of drug cartel violence there. "But again we don't really have anything to go on right now."
Pat Childers, a former Wyoming legislator, lives in Cody, a little more than 20 miles from Powell.
"My personal opinion is that probably it's involved in some drug trafficking. But I don't know that," Childers said.
"It doesn't shock me," said John Linebaugh, a gunsmith whose son lives a few miles from the crime scene. "I've been involved in law enforcement. A lot of my customers are law enforcement people from the FBI on down."
It's unclear whether the man was killed where his body was found. Investigators also say there's no evidence wildlife might have removed the head.
"I think there's concern among the community, but I wouldn't classify it as an overblown concern or a panic," Mathess said.
He added authorities have no reason to believe residents are in any imminent danger.
"We definitely encourage them to be vigilant," Mathess said. "We definitely encourage them to continue to look out for their neighbors, to report strange activity."