Haunted House

The discovery of three dead babies opens up a mystery with little chance of solution

The tree-shaded A-frame, according to Brown County Appraisal District records, was in probate when the Robertses purchased it in July 2000. From February until the new owners moved in, the house had been vacant.

"At this point," McCoy says, "we've got to treat everyone who ever lived in the house as a suspect." There is, however, little optimism in his voice to suggest a quick resolution of the mystery. "Everyone we've spoken with is being very cooperative."

The distraught Robertses immediately agreed to give DNA samples to prove they are not related to the infants. The two Bowling daughters, now living in small towns in the Panhandle, expressed disbelief when investigators told them of the discovery and have also volunteered to provide DNA samples to be matched to those the medical examiner hopes will eventually be extracted from the bodies. The women, now in their 40s, have been very helpful, McCoy and Martin say. "One is a physical therapist," Deputy Martin says, "and the other is a housewife with five children."

Craig Larotonda
Craig Larotonda

They, too, have refused to speak with the media.

Only the Bowling son, a hairdresser reportedly living in the Corpus Christi area, has yet to be located and interviewed. "We aren't even sure he knows about what's happened," McCoy says. "Neither of his sisters had read or heard anything about it before we interviewed them." The last time either of the women had spoken with their brother, they told investigators, was "at least a year ago."

McCoy all but dismisses the Robertses as suspects. "If they'd had anything to do with this," he reasons, "why, after such a long period of time, suddenly report what they found to the authorities? That makes no sense at all."

And what of the three surviving Bowling family members, each separated in age by six years and "not particularly close to each other," who sold the house and moved away following their parents' deaths? "If you're trying to sell a house, it doesn't make much sense to leave three dead bodies hidden inside."

As Ranger Hanna says, a grim puzzle with no fitting pieces.

What, then, of the five months in 2000 during which the house was vacant? Is it possible a trespasser--perhaps someone familiar with the house, even a stranger--might have used it as a place to hide some crime? "We're certainly not dismissing that possibility," McCoy says.

Sitting behind his desk recently, he admits frustration. "You feel like there are things you should be doing," he says, "but what? We've gone through the house with a fine-tooth comb twice. We've dug through records and conducted interviews. Now, we're at a point where we're at the mercy of the scientists."

Specifically, Denton's Dr. Harrell Gill-King, director of the University of North Texas' Laboratory of Forensic Anthropology, one of only two licensed forensic anthropologists in Texas.

"This investigation," admits Deputy Martin, "hinges on what Dr. Gill-King can determine and pass along to us and the medical examiner."

Earlier this month Dr. Gill-King traveled to Austin and picked up the tender cargo he would bring back to his laboratory for study. Good-natured and quick to laughter, he has spent the past two decades examining skeletal remains, testifying in grisly and celebrated court trials and teaching his craft to the next generation of forensic scientists. In the aftermath of the 9-11 disaster in New York, he was among those called in to help identify the remains of victims.

And while he tells the Dallas Observer that it is his policy not to discuss any case on which he's still working, he does explain that he will conduct what is called a necropsy, rather than an autopsy. In layman's language: His examination will be conducted with a variety of high-tech X-raying, measurements and photography. His goal: to determine when the infants died, their gender, if they are related and, if possible, how they met their deaths.

The latter, experts say, is unlikely. Still, DNA material can be extracted from bones, ultimately providing the authorities with comparisons to make with the DNA of each body and any suspects developed in the course of the investigation. "When we get some DNA evidence to work with," Ranger Hanna says, "then I believe we'll be able to move the case forward."

Dr. Gill-King's initial report after viewing the remains stated that one of the infants was a boy, according to The Associated Press. While one of the bodies was, in fact, mummified, the other two were only skeletal remains. One, he reported to the Travis County medical examiner, appeared to be younger than the other two. And he has told investigators that it might be as long as six to eight weeks before his examination of the bodies is completed.

Meanwhile, scientists at the Texas Department of Public Safety laboratory in Austin recently began examining the bags and wrappings in which the infants' bodies were found, searching for fingerprints and trace evidence like hair and fibers that might have been left behind by whoever hid the bodies.

Martin, however, agrees that chances of ever determining the cause of death of the babies are "slim to none" unless someone eventually confesses. "Right now," he says, "we're more focused on learning who the victims are and who they might be connected to."

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