Investigators on Monday said they'd determined the make and model of a car found burned at Clinton Lake, but the identity of the body inside remained a mystery.
The burned vehicle was a white, four-door Mazda 626 from the late 1990s or early 2000s, according to the Douglas County Sheriff's Office. The sheriff asked anyone who had seen the car around Clinton Lake to call the office at 843-0250 or the TIPS hot line at 843-TIPS.
Coroner Erik Mitchell's office has taken custody of the body found in the car and will perform an autopsy in coming days. Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Doug Woods said he expected the body would have to be identified through some kind of scientific means such as DNA testing or dental records. He said it wasn't yet clear whether the person was a man or woman or whether foul play was involved.
"We're investigating it as an unattended death," he said.
He said the death didn't appear to match any missing person reports in Douglas County.
About 11 a.m. Sunday, a passerby called emergency dispatchers to report seeing a four-door vehicle on fire near the Rock Creek boat ramp on the south side of the lake.
Woods said the body was in the passenger compartment of the car, not the trunk, but would not say whether it was in the driver's seat or a passenger seat. The car was so badly burned that, initially, officers couldn't say what type of car it was.
The sheriff's office removed the car about 5 p.m. Sunday and took it to a "secure facility" for processing, Woods said. He said that to match the car to an owner, investigators would need to dismantle it and find its vehicle identification number.
Lawrence Police, the coroner's office and the Kansas State Fire Marshal's Office are helping with the investigation.
Karl McNorton, chief deputy with the fire marshal's office, said materials used to build cars can make for especially hot, quickly burning fires.
"Everything's made out of plastic or foam. There's very little of it anymore that's actually metal," he said.
The foam inside seat cushions, for example, turns into liquid in a fire and produces a vapor that ignites.
"It's like solid gasoline is what it really comes down to," he said.
McNorton said typically a car's engine block, transmission and frame have vehicle identification numbers stamped onto them that will withstand a fire.
"The one that's up in your dash is generally on a piece of stamped aluminum that will melt away," he said.
McNorton said when his agency is called to help investigate car fires, they usually involve a vehicle burned for insurance money or one that's been stolen, stripped for parts and abandoned.
He said one challenge of investigating a burned body is that it must be determined whether the person died as a result of the fire or of other causes.