Sydney Loofe's death caused by "homicidal means," according to pathologist
WILBER - Two days after Sydney Loofe's remains were found in rural Clay County, the body was taken to Physician Laboratory in Omaha for an autopsy in Dec. 2017.
The results of that autopsy were presented to the jury Monday at the Saline County Courthouse, as the murder trial of Aubrey Trail enters its fourth week.
Loofe's remains were disposed of on the afternoon of Nov. 16 in rural Clay County - around the area of Nebraska Highway 74 and County Road S. Not far from the town of Edgar.
The remains were discovered by law enforcement on Dec. 5.
Dr. Michelle Elieff, a pathologist who performed the autopsy on Loofe on Dec. 7, provided the jury with a PowerPoint presentation that contained dozens of photos taken during that autopsy.
Due to the graphic content of these photos, the presentation was made visible only to the council and the jury.
Elieff says the body was brought to PhysLab in Omaha in six separate bags. Loofe's body was cut into 14 total pieces. All but one, a part of the upper left arm, were recovered.
Elieff noted that many of Loofe's organs were gone, including the tongue, heart, left lung, liver, kidneys, intestines, trachea, most of the esophagus and aorta.
"(Loofe's) mid-torso section, where many of those internal organs would be, was pretty much a donut of skin and underlying fatty tissue," Elieff said.
Elieff, and law enforcement, were unable to officially determine how, or why, the organs were removed.
Loofe's remains were mostly found in ditches or cornfields, leaving them subject to damage from predatory animals.
Elieff said animals typically go for areas of soft tissue, but she found those areas to be "not disturbed" by animals.
There was minor predatory damage, mainly in the form of scratches, found on a nipple, on the jaw and on top of one of the feet.
Elsewhere, Elieff noticed some small blood vessels in Loofe's head area were burst. She said that this could be the result of strangulation.
"Those blood vessels can burst due to the pressure," Elieff said.
There was also evidence of "microscopic hemorrhage" near Loofe's vaginal area, which suggests possible sexual activity within a "few hours or a day" of death.
Elieff said that could have also been caused by the insertion of a tampon, or some kind of "sexual enhancing" device.
Some of the more notable findings were on the lower neck area, where Elieff described areas of hemorrhage throughout, and areas of soft issue missing. She found areas of hemorrhage all the way down to the muscle in the neck area.
"There is some amount of force that's needed to that," Elieff said.
Elieff also found markings and bruises that, to her, suggested were caused by some kind of "dismemberment instrument."
These markings were especially apparent in the arm and torso areas.
There were also bruises and abrasions found on both of Loofe's wrists, which are "consistent with restraint," according to Elieff.
Elieff also noted that there was hardly any blood left in Loofe's body upon recovery - something that was not unexpected, since her body was cut up.
Trail stated last June that he made a "deep cut" on Loofe's neck, and drained her blood into some sort of container. That container was never found.
At the end of the autopsy, Elieff concluded that Loofe's cause of death was by "homicidal means to include strangulation," which is the cause of death of a person at the hands of another.
The autopsy did not show, however, the manner of death. Whether or not it was intentional or accidental. The manner of death is not covered in the definition of "death by homicidal means."
"The manner of death is left up to the county attorney," Elieff said.
Elieff also stated that she couldn't definitely say whether the strangulation was caused by an item, or human hands.
Dr. Steven Symes, a forensic anthropologist with the state of Mississippi, specializes in the study of bones.
He's looked at over 200 dismemberment cases in his lengthy career, and was contacted in mid-December 2017 to do a study on Loofe's remains, particularly her bones.
Symes said he focused on the cut marks made on her bones, from her ankles to the neck vertebrate.
Symes noted that there was "lots of tissue missing" in the areas of any cuts. While he didn't rule out predatory damage, Symes said the cuts on Loofe's bones looked "too uniform to be all from predation."
He also noted many "false starts" on Loofe's body - cuts that didn't go all the way through the bone, especially in both femurs.
Symes could also tell from observing the cuts on Loofe's bones that there were a lot of "back-and-forth sawing motions" made during the dismemberment.
When observing cuts on the ribs, Symes noticed indications of a "fast-moving blade," as well as "heavy duty shears" that may have been used to make cuts.
When looking at neck vertebrate, Symes said there were no signs of "animal chewing" or "knife cuts."
Looking at his study overall, Symes identified three weapons that were most likely used in dismembering Loofe: a bow saw, a hacksaw and the heavy duty shears.
After narrowing down all possibilities, Symes concluded that the primary tool used to dismember Loofe was a 24-tooth-per-inch hacksaw.
"I could tell it was a blade that cuts very thin," Symes said. "It had very tiny teeth. I'm convinced it was a hacksaw."
Records show that Trail purchased a Stanley-brand, high-tension hacksaw from the Home Depot on N 27th St. in Lincoln on the morning of Nov. 15 - a saw that Symes says "matches the characteristics" of his findings.
Trail stated last June that Loofe died the night of Nov. 15 in the bedroom at he and Bailey Boswell's Wilber apartment.
He has maintained that her death was the accidental result of a sexual fantasy that involved erotic asphyxiation.
Trail faces the death penalty if convicted of first degree murder.
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @Tommy_NCN.