What investigators can learn from Taylor Williams’ remains

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Bones were about all that investigators searching for the remains of a missing Jacksonville 5-year-old girl found in rural Alabama earlier this month. On Monday, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office confirmed what everyone suspected: After the ravages of time and animals savaging, these were the remains of Taylor Rose Williams.

Michael Knox, a former Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office investigator who now runs a forensic investigation company, told News4Jax it’s possible the remains could only be weeks old, but possibly have been there for months. It depends on factors such as the weather and animals in the area.

“It’s very humid, it’s very moist here in the south, so bodies tend to decompose and it doesn’t take long during warmer months for bodies to go from freshly dumped to a skeleton,” Knox said.

Knox said it’s possible forensic investigators could determine the cause of death, but some causes appear easier to detect than others. Something like a bullet wound or blunt-force trauma would show up in skeletal remains. But something less obvious like a drug in her system or malnourishment would be harder to detect.

In cases like that, a forensic anthropologist is often brought in.

“What can be seen sometimes is a forensic anthropologist can look at the development of bones and determine whether or not development was normal for the age,” Knox said.

Knox added that works for detecting long-term malnourishment, but short term physical effects is harder to detect. He added investigators will also dig up layers of dirt below the remains and look for any other evidence, such as clothes or anything that may have wrapped the body. Much of that can contain evidence if a person placed the body there.

The other hurdle for investigators is proving whether someone killed Taylor. Right now, no one has been charged in her death but her mother Brianna Williams has been charged with lying to police and child neglect.

News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson said if someone disposed of Taylor’s body that doesn’t necessarily constitute a murder, so police have to determine who’s responsible.

“Disposing of a body makes you an accessory to whatever crime -- happened prior to the death of a person. It does not necessarily mean that you murdered that person,” Jefferson said.

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