Man who died in park was homeless, father says

Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2005

The man whose decomposing body was found last month in Seneca Creek State Park had earned two college degrees in electrical engineering, despite battling mental illness for years before his death, his father said.

‘‘He was a vigorous man,” said Norman Peterson, the father of Karl Richard Peterson, 39, whose body was identified Sept. 12 by state medical examiners. ‘‘He was very active in a lot of things.”

Medical examiners used dental records to identify Peterson, whose body was found Aug. 28 half-submerged in Seneca Creek off the 12000 block of Clopper Road.

The state Natural Resources Police, who handle such investigations on state-owned park property, do not yet know how Peterson died or how long he had been there by the time a hiker found his body.

But they maintain that no foul play was involved.

‘‘The body was in such bad shape ... we didn’t have a whole lot to look at to determine cause of death,” said Cpl. Ken Turner, a Natural Resources Police spokesman, adding that the medical examiners had not found any trauma suggesting a violent death.

Peterson, the father, said he last saw his son in mid-June, and that he had been homeless for some time, living in area shelters before deciding to live in the woods because he had found the quality of life in the shelters lacking.

Karl came to see his parents at their home in Derwood in June, but was incoherent and did not make clear where he was going to live in the woods.

His illness had ‘‘left us with no way to communicate with him,” Norman said.

Peterson said he first learned of the discovery of a body from a story in The Gazette.

Investigators had at first planned to send parts of the body to an FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va., as the extent of the decomposition made identification via fingerprints impossible. But this turned out to be an unneeded ‘‘plan B,” Turner said, an option they would have used only if identification via dental records failed, which it did not.

A hiker found Peterson’s body about 6 p.m. Aug. 28 while walking on one of the 6,000-acre park’s many ‘‘renegade” trails, which are pathways not maintained and often created by animals.

The hiker discovered the body after smelling an odor that he at first assumed was from a dead animal. He then saw the body from about 50 yards away and used binoculars to get a closer look. Seeing it was human, the hiker left the area and called police.

The Natural Resource Police, which typically handle boating and conservation enforcement, have said Peterson’s body was found well away from the park’s recreational areas, and that investigators had to hike more than 100 yards through heavy brush to reach it.

They also said this week that it appears Peterson died of natural causes, and that the scene at the park suggested that he had disrobed to cool off in the creek. ‘‘That’s what this scene looked like,” Turner said. ‘‘It was almost peaceful.”