A report of decomposing shoes on the bony feet of a skeleton poking out from a shallow grave first sounded like a pre-Halloween prank, a Mendocino County sheriff's official said Tuesday.

It wasn't.

A detective and sergeant went to the rural property Tuesday along the Eel River and verified the macabre finding, Mendocino sheriff's Lt. Greg Van Patten said.

"It's quite obvious the skeletal remains of a foot are still attached to the shoe," Van Patten said.

Detectives and an anthropology professor and students from Chico State University today plan to carefully unearth the rest of the remains from the shallow grave, Van Patten said.

The buried body was on private property about 30 feet from the river's edge near the community of Piercy.

It was off rural Highway 271, which runs between the river and Highway 101 in that area. And it was just south of where the former annual Reggae by the River festival was held in years past.

"It's not too far from civilization," Van Patten said.

It is possible the body has been there for at least three years.

The woman who made the discovery told detectives that on previous walks near the river, possibly going back three years, she'd noticed what appeared to be a discarded shoe.

On Monday the local resident spotted a second shoe. That evening she went for a closer look, said Van Patten.

Tuesday morning at 6:59 a.m. she called the Sheriff's Office.

Nothing was unearthed Tuesday. The scene, with the two, disintegrating tennis shoe-style shoes, was being protected for today's effort.

"We're not disturbing the scene until the anthropologists get there," he said.

The remains will be examined for signs of trauma and identity.

Once detectives have more information, they'll start investigating, including reviewing old missing persons reports.

"We do have several from over the years," said Van Patten.

The lieutenant asked anyone with information to contract the Sheriff's Office tip line at 234-2100.

You can reach Staff Writer

Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com.