Forensics specialist here Tuesday

One of the nation's leading forensic specialists of sharp-force trauma wounds said he hopes to identify the weapon used in the murder of 23-year-old David Michael Grubbs, but it may take some time.

"There will be no immediate results," said Steven Symes, a forensic anthropologist based in Erie, Pa. "It's nothing like that fancy stuff you see on TV."

Symes will arrive in Ashland on Tuesday to examine the body. He said he likely will extract bone and flesh and take castings of the wounds before he flies back to his lab in Erie, where he will examine what he finds under a microscope.

"Normally I don't go to the homicide, they bring the homicide to me," Symes said in a telephone interview. "In this case, I'd rather do the work myself."

Symes said he couldn't give an estimated timeline for when he will complete the examination.

"It looks like there is enough sharp trauma there, that we could see a positive ID," he said, referring to what weapon was used.

He said the examination may also reveal the positioning of Grubbs and his attacker during the incident.

"As long as we find enough characteristics," he said.

Symes specializes in sharp-force trauma, with an expertise in saw and blade marks on bone, and also is renowned for his work with burned-bone trauma. Ashland police contacted Symes early on to help with the investigation, but schedules didn't permit his arrival until now, he said. Symes said he will work on the Grubbs case all day Wednesday and plans to be back in Pennsylvania on Thursday.

Symes is an assistant professor at Mercyhurst College, where he is part of a master's program for forensic and biological anthropology. He also is part-time faculty member in the anthropology department at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

He is one of fewer than 90 forensic anthropologists nationwide who are certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology.

"We're getting the best of the best," said Ashland police Chief Terry Holderness.

Grubbs was found murdered on the Central Ashland Bike Path near the Hunter Park tennis courts at about 5:35 p.m. Nov. 19. An autopsy showed that he was nearly decapitated from a weapon with a medium to large blade, police said.

Investigators said Grubbs didn't appear to make any defensive moves in the attack, and that his wallet and money were left in his pocket after he was killed.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email

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