PRESCOTT, Ariz. - Bond has been set at $250,000 for a man accused of discarding human remains believed to have been used for medical research in remote areas of central Arizona.
Walter Harold Mitchell had his initial appearance on Dec. 30 in the Prescott Justice Court. He appeared via video from the Yavapai County jail a day after he was arrested in metropolitan Phoenix.
Authorities say they tied Mitchell to the body parts that included limbs and severed heads through tags and medical gauze that were found along with the remains.
Walter Mitchell (MVD Photo) (Yavapai County Sheriff's Office)
A judge appointed a public defender for Mitchell. The Yavapai County Public Defender's Office declined to say whether anyone there is representing Mitchell, citing office policy, and did not respond to a follow-up email Wednesday from The Associated Press.
Authorities said Mitchell moved to Arizona from Washington state earlier this year.
Background on the case
Warning: Graphic content
On Dec. 26, a woodcutter found one set of remains near Prescott, which is about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Phoenix. A hunter discovered other remains at a separate site northwest of Prescott, said D'Evelyn.
"We are as baffled as anyone else, when we got the news the next day that additional remains were found," he said. "We thought, ‘Well, that can’t be.' But sure enough, there they are. And two separate reporting parties who have no connection to another."
The remains were in plain sight and believed to be connected to a medical institution, authorities said. They could have been used for education or research, based on tags that were found with some of the body parts, D'Evelyn said. White absorbent pads with blue trim also were found at both locations, he said.
Two human limbs were found in the area off Contreras Road on Dec. 26. Later in the day, 19 limbs, including arms and legs were recovered.
On Dec. 27, detectives and searchers found five additional limbs. YCSO also received a phone call from a hunter in the Camp Wood area who reported finding two human heads. A follow-up search by deputies revealed three more human heads.
"Based on some of the materials found that were associated with the remains at both sites, including ‘puppy pad’ material, it was determined the body parts at each site were likely related and connected to the same suspect. Forensic follow-up by the Yavapai County Medical Examiner is necessary to confirm such findings and that process is underway," said D'Evelyn.
Authorities are asking hunters to check their game cameras for any video that might help them determine how the body parts ended up in the areas. They're also asking the public for help in finding a freezer that was owned by Mitchell and sold in Chino Valley between mid-November and December 19.
The freezer is a 1970s to early-1980s model that is top loading and pale yellow. Detectives believe Mitchell advertised the freezer on Craigslist, with the sale taking place on Reed Road in Chino Valley.
If you have any information, you're asked to call the sheriff's office at 928-771-3260, Silent Witness at 1-800-932-3232, or online at yavapaisw.com with any information related to the case.
Statements from the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office
"This situation is unimaginable, and I am so sorry for the families whose loved ones were donated to research and treated in Walter Mitchell such a horrific fashion. I want to thank the community for their patience as we investigated this case and am very proud of our detectives, staff, and volunteers, for the work they did to identify and arrest the suspect so quickly. At the onset, it was important to determine that this case did not involve a serial killer and is why, working with Sheriff Elect Rhodes, I directed all available resources to the case. As I retire this Friday, I want to thank the community for their support and know the agency will continue to do great work." -- Sheriff Scott Mascher
"The disrespect shown to the deceased in this case by those who were charged with caring for their remains is abhorrent and intolerable. Today's arrest is a big step in getting accountability and honor for those whose remains were socavalierly treated. Nothing but gratitude for the people of the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office, Medical Examiner's Office, and County Attorney's Office for their non-stop work on this case." -- Sheriff-Elect David Rhodes
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