Rest In Pieces

Kathryn Lynch

Copyright 2018 by Kathryn Lynch

Photo of bones buried in ground.

It did not start out as the Old Lady's idea.

Her nine year old granddaughter wanted to get some goats as a 4H project, but there was nowhere for them to graze. The unused portion of the land was a tangled mass of rotting redwood trunks, long grasses and twisted birch trees held together by aggressive, unyielding blackberry vines. Without substantial clearing, the area could not be used as a pasture.

So it was, that the Old Lady allowed the girl to acquire the goats so they could be staked out in the area to eat their way into the blackberries and the grasses.

The neighbor man's grown son was the first to sound the alarm. Actually he called 9-1-1, and the arrival of the police was the first indication to the Old Lady that there was a problem on her land.

The problem was a bony hand sticking out of the ground and a skull staring at the sun through dirt encrusted eye sockets. The goats had uncovered them both by grazing away the top growth.

The responding patrolmen were followed by the homicide detectives, circling the area like buzzards zeroing in on a meal. From time to time they kicked the dirt with shiny shoes, their weary-lidded eyes never leaving the ground. As dusk approached, standing lights flooded the scene, transforming the skull into an eerie creature, grinning through crooked teeth at those who would seek some answers.

A patrol car with two cops parked near the area all night.

At morning light a bus arrived, disgorging young men and women dressed in black jogging pants and white tee shirts. The Old Lady learned that they were Highway Patrol Academy recruits brought to the scene to "search for more evidence". Each was assigned to a specific grid so that nothing would be missed.

It did not take long.

About an hour into the search, the Old Lady heard someone cry out, "Over here. There's another one!" She thought that the find must include a skull for the conclusion to be drawn that there were two bodies rather than a single body spread about by wild animals.

The search went on into that second night. A neighbor, watching close by, told the Old Lady that the find had now reached seven bodies.

At 7:00 a.m. the following morning, she heard the first trucks on the road. They rumbled past her trailer, gaudy but efficient, TV station letters topped by lights and loudspeakers. Overdressed reporters with mobile microphones emerged, the women struggling in high heels as they traversed the muddy terrain. This was news! It was the biggest news since the 1964 Tsunami rolled over the sleepy little town, killing nearly a dozen.

Police tape encircled an area larger than the dig. Frustrated reporters and camera operators paced back and forth along the tape like runners ready to sprint, but they were not rewarded. Sweaty police grumbled repeatedly about their presence, in the age old police-privacy vs. media-publicity dispute.

The reporters would not be deterred. They knocked on the Old Lady's door, microphones in hand, pressing for an interview. She told them that all she knew was that her granddaughter's goats had grazed the back of her lot and exposed the first bones. She saw herself on the cable news broadcasts that evening. To close the segment, the anchors speculated that the area might contain as many as 15 bodies.

They underestimated the final tally by 300%.

The recruits continued to search. Whole skeletons and isolated bones were still being found but tangled brush prevented the discovery of what lay beneath. Veteran police officers mused that more evidence was buried, but that heavy equipment would be needed to uncover it.

On the fourth morning two bulldozers arrived, operators struggling around TV trucks already parked on the narrow road. The digging giants began to excavate the grids, scooping up huge mouthfuls of dirt, brush and vines. Heavily gloved recruits cut away the vines, removed the brush, and sifted the dirt through large, screened trays.

Soon more bones, large and small, rested atop the screens. At every sighting of bones, hungry reporters recorded the sounds of discovery and eager camera operators filmed the grisly finds with telescopic lenses for the evening news.

There was no way to immediately determine the number of bodies because the bones had separated and had been mixed by the dozers. It would be the responsibility of the Medical Examiner's office to make that determination, as well as the causes of death.

The Medical Examiner was a gravel yard owner who had run for the office in the local election. He was one of many small town Examiners who had no medical background. Hardworking and fair, he sorted the bones with the help of doctors who lived in the town, and concluded that they had parts of at least 45 bodies. They were male and female. They found no dental work. There was no evidence that weapons had struck any of the bones. He listed the causes of death for all, as "undetermined".

That word gave the cable news stations enough latitude to speculate that the 45 deaths were homicides, and that an unspeakably horrible killer now lurked somewhere in the town. Keys never used on doors were dug out of drawers. Locks sold out at the hardware stores. The local pawn shop sold all guns on hand. Private citizens who owned guns cleaned them and saw to it that they were fully loaded. The Dog Pound ran out of pit bulls, rottweilers, dobermans, and german shepherds. Guardian Angels, a private security group from Los Angeles soon arrived to patrol the neighborhoods.

Frazzled and exhausted homicide detectives now questioned the Old Lady. She was careful to tell them exactly the same thing she had told the reporters. They took notes and appeared satisfied with her responses.

On the fifth day, the bulldozers smoothed over the excavated area before leaving the scene. TV trucks pulled away in pursuit of the next story. Neighbors returned to their homes, intending to watch the latest developments on the local news. The goats continued to eat the tangled grasses that they could reach.

It should have been so easy and so simple", the Old Lady thought, but the police, the press, and the Medical Examiner had all missed it.

Before purchasing the land, she had gone to the County Recorder's Office to study the information stored in the computers about the history of the parcel. The seller had purchased the land from the "original" owner who had held it in his family for eighty years. Of course the true original owners had been Native Americans of the Tolowa Tribe, who valued the land because a portion of it was used to bury their dead.

The goats had stumbled onto the burial grounds.

Epilogue: Six years after their discovery, the local police turned over the bones to the "Cold Case Squad" of the Highway Patrol. Anthropologists working with the Squad determined that the bones were probably 100 years old, most likely Native Americans. They remained unidentified.

The news organizations which had broadcast stories about the 45 murders in the small town, never retracted them, corrected them, or reported the new findings. That news was simply not exciting.

Land prices in the town were depressed for years. No one wanted to purchase property or move to a place which might still have a dangerous killer on the prowl.

The Old Lady, who had no money to properly clear the land for her granddaughter's goats, enclosed the newly bulldozed area with a fence. Lush grasses grew quickly, giving the animals a level, open and fitting pasture. They grew fat, multiplied, and lived out their lives in harmony with the land. 

This is a fiction story which incorporates a factual reference to the 1964 tsunami, which struck Crescent City, California.

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