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Body found in barrel on Malibu beach ‘didn’t look decomposed’—police

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Mystery surrounds the death of a man after the grim discovery of his body in Malibu, California, which was found inside a 55-gallon drum first seen floating in a lagoon on Sunday afternoon.

The find was made when a California State Parks maintenance worker spotted the sealed barrel in the waters off Malibu Lagoon State Beach and kayaked out to reach it. The black plastic drum was opened onshore by a lifeguard on Monday morning, who found the human remains inside and called the police.

The incident, which has sparked an investigation by homicide detectives, comes after another body was found sealed inside a barrel in Lake Mead, a reservoir lying across the Nevada and Arizona state lines, in May last year. Five sets of human remains were found within a matter of weeks as water levels dropped, but police believe hundreds more bodies may remain in the waters, yet to be discovered.

Body in barrel Malibu Beach
The barrel in which a body was found sits in shallow water under a canopy. The discovery was made at Malibu Lagoon State Beach, California, on July 31, 2023.
ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

The area is thought to have been a dumping ground for victims of organized crime syndicates, while other deaths are likely to have been accidental. In any case, some decades-old mysteries have been solved as police can finally close missing-person cases that went cold years ago.

Information is currently scarce about the circumstances surrounding the Malibu body in the drum, and the man’s identity has not yet been established.

Lieutenant Hugo Reynaga, of the homicide bureau at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, told reporters what was known so far. The park worker saw the barrel floating in the lagoon, and kayaked out to reach it and bring it to the shore, Reynaga said, according to local news channel KTLA. “They (the worker) got in a kayak to get it and brought it to shore. Apparently it was too heavy and they didn’t want to open it, so they left it onshore.” Reynaga did not expand further on the reasons for not opening the barrel.

The drum, which was retrieved at around 3 p.m. (6 p.m. ET) on Sunday, was left there overnigh. A lifeguard saw it—now washed back into the lagoon—when he arrived for work the next morning. He swam out and managed to pull it out of the water at around 10 a.m. and opened the barrel on the beach. It was then when he discovered that a body had been packed inside.

The origin of the drum is not yet known, and it is unclear if it washed towards the lagoon on the tide from a different location. “At about 8 p.m. there’s a high tide here, and there’s a possibility that the container could have come in from the ocean and then got stuck in the lagoon—but we don’t know,” Reynaga said. Investigators are now studying footage from security cameras in the area for clues.

Reynaga would not be drawn on speculation about what happened to the man, or how his body ended up in the barrel, but he said he did not think that the remains had been sealed in there for very long. In terms of decay, “the foot didn’t look decomposed,” he said.

Newsweek reached out to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department by email for further information and comment on Tuesday.

Local residents living in the area were shocked by the grisly news. “This is not what happens in Malibu,” Jefferson Wagner told The Los Angeles Times. Wagner, who owns the nearby Zuma Jay Surf Shop and is a former mayor of Malibu, said he was “deeply disturbed” by the discovery. “This is not a common occurrence,” he added. “I mean, bodies in a barrel is just sad.”

Aerial footage filmed by news channel helicopters showed the black plastic drum standing upright in shallow water with police tape sealing off the area around it. Investigators in suits were seen gesturing at the barrel as they began their work and waited for the coroner’s office to arrive to remove the drum and the body. Further along the beach, people were still sunbathing and watching the surfers out on the waves.

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