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A woman in her 60s was reported missing by her spouse after she did not return from an evening walk with her dog near her home in a rural Swedish village. A few hours later, she was found at the edge of the woods, near the shore of a lake. Her body was face-up, with a huge rip in her jeans and a major laceration deep into her right leg. But there was little blood.

The preliminary conclusion by local authorities was that she had been killed elsewhere in a gruesome way: by use of a riding reel lawn mower.

But the detailed investigation by a team of experts, published in the latest Journal of Forensic Sciences, came upon an even more unlikely scenario: she had been killed in a brutal moose attack.

The exacting forensic disciplines that came together reconstructed a crime that was totally unexpected, considering the normal docility of the large animals.

The body was found between 1 and 2 meters away from a rowboat on the shore of the lake, in the midst of a forested area. The blood spatter on the boat indicated that the victim had been struck repeatedly in close proximity to the boat—so she was killed at the crime scene, according to the examiners.

The autopsy determined further details. A full-body CT scan determined there were two collapsed lungs, broken ribs, fractures of parts of the spine and shattered bones in the right leg.

The deep lacerations on the right leg, which went deep into the muscle, were up to 30 centimeters long—and contained embedded grass, according to the investigators.

Other wounds included widespread contusion and abrasions across the body.

Although the woman had suffered in life from a benign tumor, a goiter and chronic pulmonary emphysema, the cause of death was ruled to be bilateral flail chest—her rib cage had essentially been knocked free of the rest of the chest wall, due to massive trauma. She was killed quickly, and her heart ceased before she could bleed much at the scene.

Strands of hair were retrieved from careful scrutiny of the remains. The Swedish National Forensic Centre made microscopic comparisons—and found it was not human. It also wasn’t dog. Instead, it was from an individual in Cervidae, the animal family including deer—and moose.

The initial speculation was that the massive trauma and cutting wounds were inflicted on the woman, who was then transported to the lake shore in a vehicle that been previously used to haul moose carcasses during the annual moose hunt in Sweden.

Follow-up mitochondrial DNA testing confirmed that the hair was indeed from a moose.

Moose specialists then told the death investigators that, if there had been an attack, the animal’s saliva would probably be found scattered across the victim’s clothing. Tests at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences confirmed there were large amounts of the DNA across the remains.

They also tested the force required to rip the victim’s jeans straight down from the waist down along the right leg. A tensile force tester was used on five identical pairs of the same brand pants, and found it would require 953 newtons of force—meaning a large amount of strength.

The moose attack scenario was further considered.

Previous moose-related human deaths have almost all been due to car collisions. But recorded attacks have included females protecting their offspring in the summer, and males getting aggressive during fall mating season.

The conclusion: manner of death accidental, from moose attack.

“The woman was walking the unleashed, young dog when the dog came across a moose and returned to the woman, seeking her protection,” they write. “Probably, the moose pursued the dog, knocked the woman over, and killed her by stomping, kicking, and goring.

“As the incident took place right before the rutting season, aggressive behavior and attacks on humans could be expected and has been documented in which the moose lowers its head, gores the victim, and kicks it with the forelimbs,” they add.

The first author of the conclusions is Petur Gudmansson, of Sweden’s National Board of Forensic Medicine. The investigation was originally presented at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences’ annual meeting last year.

The team, including doctors from the Karolinska Institutet and Umea University, concludes that animal attacks can present huge challenges in equivocal death investigations.

“Our case exemplifies the difficulties posed by an unwitnessed fatal animal attack,” they add. “The complex trauma picture displayed can occasionally mimic foul play by means of a heavy tool or a fall if the body is found next to a height.”

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