PEKIN — Investigators believe the skeletal remains discovered in woods south of Pekin on Monday are those of missing 13-year-old Robert Bee Jr.

“You have to assume there was foul play” in his death, Tazewell County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jeff Lower said Tuesday.

He and other officials spoke at a news conference following an autopsy that Lower said produced “a presumptive finding, but not (yet) a specific finding” that the remains are those of Bee, who has been missing for more than eight months.

An official identification will require DNA testing, which could take several weeks, Lower said.

A man’s discovery of scattered bones that amounted to a near-full skeleton in and near woods along his backyard on Illinois Route 29, about a half-mile south of the Pekin federal prison, marked the first apparent physical evidence in a case that has captured the area’s attention.

Tazewell’s and Pekin’s top police officials declined at the news conference to provide details of the discovery that remain part of their now-joint investigation into Bee’s apparent death.

However, Pekin Chief John Dossey and Lt. Seth Ranney, that department’s chief investigator in the case, acknowledged to the Daily Times after the event that a connection exists between Bee and where the remains were found.

A relative of one of the two adjacent properties where the scattered bones were found is a person involved “in the investigation,” Ranney said.

The remains were scattered in woods abutting the rear of two properties in the 14300 block of Illinois Route 29. On Wednesday, the brother of the man who found remains while mowing his back lawn said his brother's family has no connection to the case.

Dossey and Lower said they could only speculate that animals had moved the bones – which the homeowner did not see the last time he mowed – and declined to comment on how long they might have been in the area.

Members of Bee’s family were notified of the autopsy’s findings, Lower said. Stephanie Clauser of Creve Coeur, Bee’s adult half-sister who has led a group of volunteers on regular search parties for evidence of his fate, was not available for comment Tuesday.

Bee ran from his home on Nov. 17 when a truant officer arrived at his south Pekin home to take him to school. His mother declared him missing the next day, and within about a month, she moved out of the city.

Bee’s home at 233 Sapp St. is about two miles north on Route 29 from the discovery site, where a stretch of lawn separates a tall chain-link fence with a gate from woods that stretch about a quarter-mile east from the properties.

The autopsy, conducted in Peoria, revealed no obvious signs of trauma as a cause of death, Lower said. It provided enough evidence, however, for investigators to conclude that no other area person reported missing need be considered as the possible victim, he said.

Dossey said other questions arising from the discovery, including whether any clothes or other identifying items were found, must remain unanswered for now as what he acknowledged as a homicide investigation continues.

Lower, Dossey and Sheriff Robert Huston called the news conference to answer as many questions as they could from a community that has expressed concern and care for a missing boy at a level that Dossey said he’s never seen in his police career.

“We’re trying to comply” in answering those concerns “without affecting the ongoing investigation,” Lower said. 

While some have questioned whether police have pursued Bee’s disappearance as hard as they can, “I assure you, behind the scenes there’s a lot going on,” Lower said. As the investigation continues, “Please be patient.”