As a nod to Halloween, Beth Meyer, owner of a rock and crystal store in North Fort Myers, Florida, placed a human skull in a glass display case and surrounded it with quartz towers and other crystals.
But Ms Meyer, 62, who intended to use the skull only as a “conversation topic” and didn’t really want to part with it, set a “very high price”, $4,000.
Still, the skull has drawn attention to his store, Elemental Arts, at Paradise Vintage Market.
On Saturday morning, as Ms. Meyer was unpacking vintage clothing and high-end glassware at the store, a deputy from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office came to question her about the skull. He is a misdemeanor in Florida knowingly buying or selling human remains.
“We are working hard to see if a crime has been committed,” said Carmine Marceno, the county sheriff, who added that his office was working with that of Amira Fox, the Florida state attorney whose jurisdiction includes Lee County. “When a human skull ends up in a store, it’s alarming.”
Mrs. Meyer knew the skull came from a human. But it was an anthropologist, Michelle Calhoun, who saw him in the store and reported him to the sheriff’s office, according to an incident report. Ms. Calhoun told a deputy she was certain the skull belonged to a Native American. Efforts to reach her by phone Monday were immediately unsuccessful.
Sheriff Marceno said the skull, which appeared to be about 75 years old, showed no signs of trauma or foul play, but the medical examiner’s office was continuing to investigate the case.
Telephone messages and emails Monday to the medical examiner’s office in District 21, which serves Lee County, and to Ms. Fox’s office were not immediately returned.
Ms. Meyer, who is also managing partner of Paradise Vintage Market, said she acquired the skull last year when she purchased a storage unit that had belonged to an ailing elderly man. She said she buys more than 100 such units each year as part of her job and often collects no names or contact information from the sellers.
“We never know what we’re going to find in the storage unit,” Ms. Meyer said. “But it’s probably the most interesting thing we’ve ever found.”
Ms. Meyer said a quick Google search revealed no federal laws prohibiting the sale of human remains, so she decided to put it up for sale. “I haven’t looked at any Florida laws,” she added.
Maybe she should have.
Selling human remains “is generally not legal,” said Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield, director of the CA Pound Human Identification Laboratory at the University of Florida. But Dr. Stubblefield, a forensic anthropologist who has examined hundreds of skulls throughout her career, said she was not surprised to learn that a human skull had been put up for sale.
Earlier this year, Dr. Stubblefield said, she saw an oddity market in Orange County, Florida, selling what it said were real human remains. “Most people don’t check code all the time,” she said.
It is against federal law to buy or sell the human remains of Native Americans, under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, said Jennifer Knutson, president of the Florida Anthropological Society.
After Ms. Meyer met with a sheriff’s deputy on Saturday, she said, Ms. Calhoun returned to the store. She explained to them why certain features of the skull, including the eyebrow region and tooth formation, led her to believe the skull belonged to a young Native American woman, Meyer said.
During their meeting, Ms. Calhoun said, “Beth, if she’s a Native American, then it has to take place at a burial ceremony,” according to Ms. Meyer, who added, “It would be so interesting to be part of that.”