A fisherman in Siberia made a grim discovery yesterday (March 8) while walking near the icy Amur River: 27 pairs of human hands, severed at the wrist and stuffed into a bag. Russian authorities said the hands were likely disposed of by a local forensics lab, bucking proper protocol.
According to the Siberian Times, the fisherman found the bag of hands on a small river island near the city of Khabarovsk, Russia, located in the country's far southeast about 18.6 miles (30 kilometers) from the Chinese border. The Amur River is a popular local fishing destination, the Times reported.
Initially, the fisherman saw only one hand sticking up out of the snow there, and discovered the full bag soon after. Photos taken at the scene and shared anonymously to Russian media reveal the discovery in brutal detail. In one image, the 54 hands lie in a haphazard pile in the snow like leathery catcher's mitts, seemingly upended from the bag; in another photo, the hands have been lined up in neat rows. [27 Oddest Medical Case Reports]
While many social media spectators (naturally) suspect foul play, officials from the Investigative Committee of The Russian Federation — a government agency responsible for criminal investigations — have said that the hands appear to have been improperly disposed of by a forensics lab in Khabarovsk.
"The biological objects (hands) found are not of a criminal origin," the Investigative Committee wrote in a post (as translated) on the messaging app Telegram, "but were disposed of in a manner not provided for by law."
Indeed, medical bandages and plastic hospital-style shoes were discovered near the hands. According to the Siberian Times, it's not unheard of for forensics labs in Russia to cut off the hands of unknown corpses in order to retain fingerprint information after the rest of the body has been discarded. Despite this possible explanation, investigators have been able to lift fingerprints from only one of the 27 pairs of hands. Little is known about the hands' previous owners.
"Based on the [investigation] results, a legal assessment will be made of the actions of officials of the forensic medical institution in the city of Khabarovsk responsible for the disposal of these biological objects," the Investigative Committee wrote.
This investigation is ongoing.
Originally published on Live Science.
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.
Brandon is the space/physics editor at Live Science. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Reader's Digest, CBS.com, the Richard Dawkins Foundation website and other outlets. He holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from the University of Arizona, with minors in journalism and media arts. He enjoys writing most about space, geoscience and the mysteries of the universe.