The incident occurred on Thursday, Dec. 15, at the Tennessee Department of Transportation salt facility in the small town of McEwen, about 60 miles southwest of Nashville. Workers were preparing road salt for inclement weather. They were hauling salt from their barn when they came across what they believed to be a weirdly shaped rock. Further investigation confirmed this discovery to be a human heart.
The Humphreys County Sheriff's Office was called in to identify the heart and to search other salt piles for human remains. The heart itself was transported to the state medical examiner's office in Nashville, where Sheriff Chris Davis said testing of tissue samples confirmed the heart belonged to an adult human male.
"An initial examination of the heart determined that it was that of an adult male," said the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), which has taken over the case following a request from 23rd Judicial District Attorney General Ray Crouch.
"Additional DNA testing will be performed to try to determine its origin. This remains an active and ongoing investigation," continued the bureau. The case is being treated as a homicide. (Related: Nearly half of all murders in the US go unsolved due to understaffed police departments.)
The Transportation Department is also "fully cooperating with law enforcement as they continue their investigation," said a spokesperson with the department.
In interviews with local media outlets, Davis said the salt facility is being treated as a crime scene. He also encouraged anybody who thinks they might have information about what might have happened to reach out either to his sheriff's office or to the TBI.
"I've got 32 years in law enforcement," said Davis. "I do have to say this is probably in the top five of the most bizarre things that I've ever seen."
Workers who saw the heart told local outlets that it appeared undamaged, as though the person who removed it had surgical training.
The TBI said it will try to track down the origin of the salt delivered to the barn. The facility provides bulk road salt for roads in Tennessee and sources its salt from about 20 facilities across the country. Unfortunately, there is currently no evidence to suggest that the heart came from any of those facilities.
Furthermore, the TBI is still working on obtaining a workable DNA sample from the heart, but the crime lab assigned to the task said it may take several weeks before it can give the authorities a full DNA profile. But once they get this, they can check DNA databases to try to determine who or where the heart came from.
"Everybody's somebody's somebody, and at the end of the day it would bother me if I lay down my head at night not knowing that we'd done everything we can for this person and this person's family," said Davis.
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Watch this clip from Fox News discussing another unsolved case – the mass murder of four college students in Idaho.