Skulls and Secrets:
A Southern Tale of Intrigue

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The human skull seems somehow to embody our humanity. Speaking
from the perspective of a former medical student, it is also a mighty
complicated piece of kit. Public domain.

I was on a remote rotation during my medical residency in a small Southern town. In many ways, visiting these forgotten parts of the Mississippi Delta is a bit like stepping back in time. The folks who live there have running water, indoor plumbing and televisions, just like everyone else. However, society sometimes seems like it has perhaps left such places behind to a degree.

In some ways, that might be objectionable, but mostly not. To be honest, the racism ship has sailed. Anyone found to be in the Klan down here nowadays would generally be viewed with pity rather than fear. In my little corner of heaven, folks generally treat each other respectfully and well. We are courteous to strangers and hold doors open for women. Folks for whom such behavior might seem objectionable are more than welcome to stay wherever it is they are currently.

Archaic Medicine

The mission this day was house calls. You don’t see that anymore in the more refined parts of the country. However, in this small corner of Mississippi, house calls were still a thing. When you enter someone’s personal space, sometimes you can make some of the most remarkable discoveries.

Our hero was an old man with the expected slew of concomitant medical problems. In his youth he had been a soldier and then an auto mechanic. The faded pictures that adorned the back of his piano were those of a strapping young man filled with energy, optimism and hope. The sundry deer heads and similar examples of the taxidermist’s art spoke to his enthusiasm for the outdoors. In his prime, this would have been one serious man.

He invited me to sit, and his wife fixed us both some iced tea. We made small talk as I soaked up the sundry stigmata of a long life richly lived. A classic wooden gun case sat in the corner. Today’s gun cases are steel and bolted to the wall. This one had a glass front so you could admire the ordnance. There was a Remington bolt gun, a Winchester slide-action 12-bore, an H&R single-barrel .410 and a vintage M-1 carbine. Then, my attention was drawn to his mantle.

There is something about the human skull that
is oddly mesmerizing. Public domain.

An Oddly Serendipitous Find

Nestled in between the candle holders and a couple of pieces of decorative pottery was a matching pair of human skulls. You can land a decent facsimile of a human skull on Amazon for $35. However, these were the real deal. You can always tell up close. The fakes never get the nasal turbinates right.

I asked if I could explore these more closely, and the man acquiesced. I hefted each skull in turn and looked it over. Both were spotlessly bleached, but the mandibles were missing. They were otherwise in decent shape. I turned each around in sequence to discover a clean 1/3-inch hole in the back of the occiput. There were no obvious exit wounds.

Entrance wounds to the skull, particularly from a handgun, are typically fairly clean. The far side, visible from the bottom through the foramen magnum when held up to the light just so, is characteristically beveled from the passage of the projectile. I innocently inquired regarding the details.

The man had been out walking in the swamp behind his house many years before and come across these two skulls half buried in the muck. He said the skeletons had clearly succumbed to animal predation some indeterminate period prior. The skulls were already old by the time he found them.

He took them both home and contacted a deputy sheriff who was a friend. This forgotten lawman dropped by to take a look and then opined that, given the age and condition of the remains, all involved might be better off if he just “made them go away.” The man subsequently rinsed the two obsolete brain buckets out vigorously, bleached them with Clorox, and let them dry on his back porch. Naturally, he then posted them atop his mantlepiece. After all, who wouldn’t?

The skull is a pretty critical piece of human anatomy.

Ruminations

As of 2021, only 51% of murders in America were ever solved. That means nearly half of those murdered never found justice. By extension, nearly half of the nation’s murderers must still be out walking free.

In this case, what was likely a .32-caliber bullet had entered each of these heads from the rear. They did not leave a discernible exit wound. The skulls had succumbed to the ravages of time, so the bullets themselves were indeed long gone.

So, what actually happened to the two unfortunate former owners of these ventilated brain boxes? Who was responsible? Nobody will ever know. For now, they simply sit ghoulishly atop an old man’s mantlepiece in the Mississippi Delta, mute testament to something truly horrible in days long past.

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