The discovery of a human skull in a garden has led authorities to the conclusion that a man killed himself with a makeshift guillotine.
The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported that an investigation began after a woman found the skull in the bushes of a residence in the Luther Burbank neighborhood of Santa Rosa in March this year.
The skull was determined to belong to Robert Enger, who owned a home on Hendley Street in the neighborhood and had not been seen since July 2019 when he was 62 and approached a neighbor for help after a head injury.
Police believe that incident was Enger’s earlier attempt to take his life using a guillotine—one that had a large metal spike instead of a sliding sharp blade. It’s not clear when, but authorities believe he eventually succeeded and used the crude contraption to impale himself.
After his death, Enger was allegedly decapitated by a 25-year-old man who police say moved into his abandoned home late last year.
Robert Melvin Ross III allegedly spent months living alongside Enger’s remains, according to the Press Democrat, and sometimes invited others to the house for parties and to take methamphetamine.
Police were reportedly called to the house several times from late last year.
Officers went inside the house at least once to investigate reports of squatting, the newspaper reported, but didn’t realize that Enger’s remains were inside, hidden under a pile of debris.
“It was just absolutely filthy and just filled with debris, trash, foods, piles of stuff,” Santa Rosa Police Detective Anthony Turner told the Press Democrat. “There were buckets of urine and feces inside the house.”
Enger’s remains weren’t discovered until after a man who attended a meth party on New Year’s Eve at the house told police months later that he had seen the decomposing remains inside—and that at one point, Ross had removed the skull from the body and scraped it with a knife.
That was not long before the woman discovered Enger’s skull, according to the Press Democrat.
After receiving additional information, police went back to the house on March 29 and discovered Enger’s bones. They tracked down Ross, who was already in Sonoma County Jail on separate charges.
In a police interview, he described the guillotine and how he had found Enger’s body.
Enger “placed himself under that contraption, manipulated it, was killed, and then his body was manipulated later by Robert Ross and others,” Turner said.
Ross was ultimately charged with unlawful handling of human remains, removal or possession of a memento from human remains and unauthorized entry of a dwelling, according to online court records.
Concerns about his mental health led to a court-ordered psychological exam this year, which found him to be mentally competent.
He pleaded no contest to possession of a memento from human remains last month, according to the Press Democrat, but recently asked to rescind the plea.
Ross remains in custody and is due to appear for sentencing and a hearing to withdraw his plea on December 20.
Meanwhile, the manner of Enger’s death is still listed in the coroner’s report as “undetermined.”
The Santa Rosa Police Department and the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office have been contacted for comment. An attorney for Ross could not immediately be reached for comment.
If you have thoughts of suicide, confidential help is available for free at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255. The line is available 24 hours every day.