Why do mushroom hunters keep finding dead people?

A look at the Kara Kopetsky, Jessica Runions cases

A look at the cases of Kara Kopetsky and Jessica Runions.
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A look at the cases of Kara Kopetsky and Jessica Runions.

It’s happened twice this month — mushroom hunters found human remains in forested areas of Cass County.

Late Tuesday night a mushroom hunter found the body of 36-year-old Vincent J. Royal in a farm field around East 278th Street and State Route DD in rural Harrisonville.

Earlier this month a morel mushroom hunter found what turned out to be the remains of missing Raymore woman Jessica Runions.

“I was just looking to see if I could find any mushrooms growing along the fence line,” the man, identified only as “Keith,” told KMBC. “I was not scared, I was a bit more shocked than anything. I knew it was a big thing.”

Why do mushroom hunters find dead people?

Early last April a man looking for mushrooms in a wooded area near Interstate 435 and Truman Road found human bones.

The next day two mushroom hunters found a human skull and other bones near Interstate 435 and Wolcott Drive in western Wyandotte County.

“Friends and I have discussed before that we’re surprised that we haven’t stumbled upon (human remains) after all these years. I guess that’s a good thing,” says Ron Cook, the administrator of the Missouri Morel Hunting Facebook page.

“I think that mushroom hunters tend to find remains more than most because of how thoroughly we search an area looking for shrooms. We tend to venture deep into the woods looking under brush piles, ravines, thickets, etc.. and hike into areas that others — such as deer hunters — wouldn’t hike in to.”

Though Cook said the recent discoveries by local hunters haven’t been discussed much on his Facebook page, a Reddit user named ActiveMeasures touched off a lengthy and still-growing discussion thread a few days ago by asking, “Why do mushroom hunters seem to frequently find human remains?

“Do mushroom hunters have a specific type of place that they look that somehow aligns with locations where people might hide bodies? ... Probably difficult questions to answer but I’ve always been curious about this.”

In response, mushroom hunters and others described how they walk through miles of woods, most often secluded.

While many hikers, joggers, campers and casual users of the great outdoors tend to stick to safe and proven paths, mushroom foragers seek out places no one else has picked over. They avoid the beaten paths.

Mushroom hunters move slowly and methodically, much like a search party would, but they pay particular attention to the ground. Berry pickers and ginseng hunters have also found human remains.

“When you hunt mushrooms, you’re generally looking for morels. Wild morel mushrooms, battered and fried, are a delicacy that I just can’t compare to anything. Velvet joy,” wrote Reddit user MrDarkDC.

“To find them, you have to go to heavily wooded/shaded areas. They don’t thrive in direct sunlight. You can forget any populated areas.

“So you’re in areas that are heavily wooded (in Missouri, where I’m from, that meant that heavy underbrushy stuff...we don’t have big old wood forests) and very remote, yet accessible by foot. Thus, great places to place bodies.

“And yes, you’re staring at the ground, looking for a specific shape. You find all SORTS of things mushroom hunting. (My uncle once found a desecrated grave site from the 18th century...and the tombstone had HIS name on it...so he booked it out of there really quick.)”

One Reddit user who said he works with cadaver dogs suggested that mushroom hunters can see things others cannot.

“Something that is often overlooked in these conversations is just how easy it is to miss human remains, even if you’re looking for them. They can blend in remarkably well,” wrote Hectorbaya.

“I have cadaver dogs and have had trouble spotting (skeletal) remains that my dog was actually alerting on, so I knew something was there. But since mushroom hunters are scrutinizing the ground in a way that very few others would, they’re a lot more likely to notice remains that hikers would just walk by without even spotting.”

One mushroom hunter referred to his “mushroom eyes.”

“When I’m mushroom hunting I get what I call my ‘mushroom vision’ where I’m able to pick out anything out of the ordinary that stands out among the general forest floor, which can tend to look very samey unless you’ve got your ‘mushroom eyes’ on,” wrote Reddit user corvus_coraxxx.

“I’ve found all sorts of stuff besides mushrooms, like old jewelery, wallets, old toys, animal bones. All things a casual hiker might miss because they aren’t poking around and scrutinizing the underbrush for things that stand out.

“I actually have a cool collection of bones found while foraging, although thankfully nothing human. I’m terrified of finding a human body.”

The mushroom season in the Kansas City area is winding down, with maybe another week to go, Cook says.