On Tuesday afternoon, on a hiking trail in Hollywood Hills, a pair of female dogwalkers stumbled across the severed head of a middle-aged man. Two of their dogs had been playing with a plastic bag, they told the LAPD. Inside was a human head.
At some point before the police arrived, a woman posed for pictures with the head. In at least one photo, she is smiling.
At least, that's what a prominent Hollywood photo agency says. They are trying to sell those pictures. They don't have a buyer, yet, but the asking price is $5000.
The discovery of the head launched a massive search for the rest of the body or clues about its origins, the Los Angeles Times reported. For two days, LAPD helicopters circled Bronson Canyon Park, hilly home to the city's iconic HOLLYWOOD sign. Crime scene investigators combed the brush; police on horseback fanned out across the terrain. Professional "cadaver dogs" took over the task two amateur dogs had started, snuffling through the brush for human remains.
They found a hand first.
Then another hand.
Then two feet.
According to the Times, the new body parts were not in bags. The LAPD opened a homicide case and theorized that the man had been killed elsewhere, then cut into pieces and dumped in the park. In conversations with the press, police authorities speculated that wild animals could have devoured or moved other remains.
After the discovery of the victim's feet, I received an email from a representative from a Hollywood photo agency that usually sells paparazzi shots of starlets climbing out of limos. On this day they were peddling pictures of the severed head. Eight pictures, to be exact, "including a pic of the lady whose dog found the head (and she's smiling)," the agency said. [Update: Dogwalker denies posing.] For a $5000 fee, Gawker could have a 24-hour web exclusive on the photos. After a day had passed, the agency would be allowed to sell them to other news outlets. "There's been a lot of interest," the representative noted.
According to the agency, the images originated on the cellphone of "a guy on the trail who had a phone—the lady didn't have a phone so she asked him to borrow his."
I asked the photo agency how they got into business with this morbid citizen journalist—had he reached out to them?—but the agency refused to give details unless we were willing to pay for those, too.
We offered $42. They declined.
And so, with the LAPD still hunting for the deceased man's torso and killer, we joined the hunt for a news outlet willing to pay for the grisly photos.
"[W]ouldn't run it. Don't want it," said David Perel, executive vice president of RadarOnline.
New York Post features editor Stephen Lynch bluntly said in an email that their paper would pay "nothing" for it. "Try Brian Williams," his message said.
"Let me ask. Good quality?" said New York Daily News gossip columnist Frank DiGiacomo. They were cellphone pictures from the scene of discovery, I told him. He directed me to NYDN's photo editor, who has yet to respond.
"We don't buy/use stuff like that," said William Bastone, editor of The Smoking Gun, an outlet that published Michael Jackson's autopsy photos. "I'd be more interested in doing something on the ghoul who tried to get Harvey Levin to (once again) open TMZ's bulging wallet."
TMZ didn't respond to our request for comment. Neither did editors at the National Enquirer, The Daily Mail, or The New York Daily News.
One person, however, was willing to name a price.
"For exclusive images? $3k or more," said Fred Mwangaguhunga, founder and editor of Media Takeout.
We reached out to the LAPD for more information about the case and cellphone photos, but they have not returned our call. We wonder if the LAPD plans to offer a cash reward for clues about the case. By our estimation, $5,001 should do it.
UPDATE, Jan 20: Kornberg says she didn't pose with the head, but perhaps the hikers who called 911 for her did.
[Image by Jim Cooke]