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Big Foot Mystery Afoot: Bear, Human, or ...?

Finding any severed animal or human body part can be creepy and gruesome, but it's not always bad news. ->

A mysterious and potentially grisly find by two young boys in a wooded area has police and residents of Quincy, Mass., baffled.

According to the Patriot Ledger newspaper, "On March 29, Sgt. Steven Leanues picked up what appears to be a decomposed foot that the boys found in the woods off Pantheon Road. Police Chief Frank Alvilhiera sent it to the medical examiner, who determined it is not human, although it appears to have five toes."

Tests are still being conducted, but the strange find has locals asking: What has five toes and looks like a foot - but isn't? Maybe Bigfoot, but more likely a bear. Strange as it may seem, this is not the first time that animal bones have been mistaken for human remains.

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In 2004 a man in Fort Gay, W.V., discovered a human hand at about 9 o'clock in the evening while cleaning his vehicle at a car wash. It was inside a manila envelope and had a rubber band around the five finger bones. Police officers and two different county medical examiners concluded it was human and probably from a child or small woman's hand.

But the mystery deepened because the rest of the skeleton was never found, and no one of that description had been reported missing. Finally the hand was sent to the state forensics lab, where it was determined to be a bear paw.

In 2011, a man in Queens, N.Y., found what appeared to be the foot of a young child in a back yard. The police were called, and parents kept their children close, fearing that someone had snatched, murdered and dismembered a child. Finally, a forensic anthropologist in the New York City medical examiner's office examined the foot and identified it as a bear paw.

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Though television police shows like CSI often make it look like identifying human from animal bones is easy, in reality it can be very difficult.

In his book "Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures, and Forensic Techniques," veteran homicide detective Vernon Geberth notes that "Practically speaking, law enforcement personnel should consider all pieces of skeleton human until experts determine otherwise. For example, parts of bear paws are misidentified more often as human than any other animal. In addition, many animal skeletons lacking the telltale skull have been thought to be those of a small child."

Finding any severed animal or human body part can be creepy and gruesome, but it's not always bad news.

Photo: Officials are trying to determine whether this object found in the woods of Lakeville is a foot, and, if it is, who it belonged to. Credit: Lakeville Police Department