The old, black footlocker looked as innocuous as the other 10 long forgotten trunks that had just been dragged from the Catholic University dormitory basement storage room as part of a cleanup of the building's recesses.
But when a curious student opened the dusty trunk, the nauseating odor of decaying flesh assaulted the nostrils of bystanders. Closer inspection revealed that the footlocker contained the top of a human skull with a round hole in the center, an embalmed hand, two long leg bones, and two smaller ones from an arm.
"We were concerned about the possibility of a major tragedy," said William Nork, head of campus security, who rushed to the macabre some. "I was thinking about witchcraft or something like that," said Greg Knee, 19, of Savannah, Ga., who had dragged the trunk out of the basement.
To unravel the mystery of the trunk and the bones, campus police gleaned three letters from the fading remains of a tag bearing the name of the trunk's owner. Armed with those, university officials began a tedious search of alumni lists for a close match.
The name of a 1968 graduate from Puerto Rico fit the letters. A phone call to the Caribbean island cracked the mystery of the baffling bones.
"He readily admitted to using them in a fraternity initiation," Nork said.
"The origins of the bones are unknown, but presumably they came from a medical school some place," said Dr. Brian Blackbourn, deputy chief medical examiner, who tested them and estimated they came from a person who had died 20 years ago.
It's not a body and there appears to be absolutely no criminal activity" connected with them, he said.