SANTA BARBARA, CA—During a search for evidence at the Neverland Valley Ranch, investigators discovered a corpse that has been identified as that of Michael Jackson, Santa Barbara police officials announced Tuesday.
"Coroners have officially pronounced Michael Jackson dead. From what we can tell, he died between 18 and 20 years ago," forensic investigator Tim Holbrooke said. "We are not certain, at this time, who—or what—has been standing trial in that Santa Maria courthouse."
According to Holbrooke, Jackson's corpse was buried just inches below a stretch of the miniature-train tracks that run throughout Neverland. The largely desiccated corpse wore the remains of a red, zipper-covered leather jacket and a single glove.
"We positively identified the body as Jackson by his dental records and DNA," Holbrooke said. "But even before we conducted a single forensic test, we began to suspect that that we'd uncovered the real Michael, and that the disturbing figure claiming to be Jackson was a fake."
Holbrooke said that, although the corpse was in an advanced stage of decomposition, when investigators compared the body to early-career publicity photos of Jackson, they saw a striking resemblance in bone structure and facial features. But when they compared the body to photos taken after 1987, the resemblance was negligible.
"This discovery raises a lot of questions, but it also sheds light on a number of disturbing incidents," Holbrooke said. "Frankly, Jackson had been acting pretty strange."
Forensic experts and music critics are postulating that Jackson was dead before the release of the multi-platinum album Bad. Detectives are currently analyzing the lyrics to "Man In The Mirror" for any clues relating to a look-alike entity that many suspect murdered the youngest member of the Jackson 5 and assumed his identity.
"We believe that Neverland served as some sort of freakishly whimsical tomb constructed by Jackson's killer," Holbrooke said. "We also suspect that all of the iniquities that occurred on that ranch were the work of the imposter. I wouldn't have ever thought it possible, but we are looking at a situation where the sexual abuse of a 13-year-old cancer patient is the tip of the iceberg."
Holbrooke said that, while the living Jackson is the leading suspect in the murder investigation, he "could be another victim of some sort."
"Basically, we have no idea what type of creature we are dealing with," Holbrooke said.
A member of the investigative team that discovered Jackson's body described the experience as "otherworldly."
"As we neared the perimeter of Neverland, the dogs started whining and howling like crazy," Santa Barbara County detective Frank Poeller said. "We had to pull them into the house. When we got to Jackson's bedroom, one of them almost choked himself to death on his leash trying to get out through the window. Minutes later, the same dog led us to the corpse."
A representative from Jackson's self-created label, MJJ Productions, said he was not surprised to find out that the current Jackson is an imposter.
"When we were recording 'Heal The World' for Dangerous, I could tell something was terribly, terribly wrong," MJJ manager Luke Allard said. "Michael didn't seem like himself anymore. He'd demand bizarre food and sit for hours in a hyperbaric chamber. His appearance began to become more and more peculiar. Soon afterwards, he started wearing a mask and confiding in a chimpanzee."
"I remember thinking, 'This man has become a monster,'" Allard said. "If only I'd known how right I was."
Allard said he thinks that the imposter broke ties with Jackson's former friends and surrounded himself with children who were too young to notice the radical change.
Vanity Fair reporter Beth Pither visited Neverland in 1994.
"A strangely fearful staff member led me to Jackson, but ran off before I opened the door," Pither said. "Standing there with my hand on an ice-cold doorknob, I heard strange, unnatural sounds—leathery wings flapping, a sorrowful wail, and loud hissing. A wave of dread passed through me as I opened the door, but all I found was Michael and some kids in pajamas eating ice cream and watching 101 Dalmatians."
While their claims have not been corroborated, other Neverland visitors have reported that when Jackson entered a room, lights flickered, faucets ran blood-red, and screams escaped from the walls.
To aid in the investigation, the FBI enlisted Dr. Richard Weingarden, a noted expert on the paranormal from UC Santa Barbara. After only two hours, Weingarden abandoned the project.
"The smell of sulfur, the decaying facial features, the bizarrely high-pitched voice—it sounds exactly like..." Weingarden said, trailing off. "I'm sure it's nothing. Not a big deal. Nothing to be terrified about, certainly. I have to go. I've got a family."
Thomas Sneddon, the prosecutor in Jackson's child-molestation lawsuit, said it remains to be seen how the shocking discovery will affect the trial.
Megan Gustafson, who left her post as president of the Akron, OH Michael Jackson Fan Club after the singer was accused of molestation, offered a positive view of the grisly revelation.
"This is very disturbing news," Gustafson said. "But to be honest, it's kind of a relief too. Thriller and Off The Wall are really amazing records. Now I can pull them out of my 'ruined by child abuse' storage bin and start listening to them again."