Investigators searching for more clues in the death of the a Marine and three-time Iraq War veteran found a bullet and possible skull fragments last week in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said.
The new evidence could shed light on the cause of death of Noah Pippin, 30 at the time of his 2010 death, who traveled alone into the wilderness after telling his family in Michigan he was driving to California.
A team led by Dutton found Pippin’s remains and various possessions last summer at the base of a scree slope below the Chinese Wall in the wilderness area.
One of the team members returned to the scene and spotted and photographed the bullet, but left it there because he figured it was crime scene evidence. So Dutton returned last week on horseback with two deputies, a U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer and several pack mules.
Using a metal detector, they found the bullet. They also found bone fragments that could be from a skull, specifically orbital bones from the area around the eyes.
“We did not find the skull, which is what we really wanted,” Dutton said at a press conference Monday.
A separate group of hikers also found a section of possible vertebrae within about 100 feet of the other evidence.
The items have been sent to the state crime lab.
Dutton said it’s not yet known if the bullet is of the .38 caliber variety. A .38 revolver was found near the scene last summer, but in a condition such that it may be impossible to match it with a fired bullet. Two spent cartridges were found in the gun and others were found nearby.
Dutton said if the bullet is not a .38, it opens up more questions about his death. So far, authorities have said foul play is not suspected.
Dutton said the continued investigation could shed light on the cause of Pippin’s death — whether it was by exposure or suicide, for example.
Dutton said the entire venture, cost the county about $1,000, with deputies using time off for the trip.
On the way to the Chinese Wall, Dutton lost his wallet — complete with identification, his pilot’s license, credit cards and other documents — that he was carrying in his boot. It was found by an outfitter from Mills Wilderness Adventures, he said, and returned to him.
Dutton said he’s not sure how long it will take the crime lab to analyze the new evidence.