Haunted House

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

Meanwhile, everyone waits on Dr. Gill-King. And only after the anthropologist has extracted DNA from the corpses will samples be officially requested of those on the investigators' "persons of interest" list.

For McCoy, things are moving too slow. As he waits, he trolls law enforcement databases searching for similar cases, solved or unsolved, that might somehow be linked to his investigation. And while he's found nothing that appears to tie in, he's learned that the mysterious event that now commands his every waking thought is not as unique as he assumed.

"Just the other day," he says, "I was reading about a case of a woman who gave birth to triplets in New York back in the '80s, then apparently murdered all three. For years, she moved here and there, always taking their bodies with her in a box. Finally, she evidently put it in a storage building out in Arizona." Eventually, she'd stopped rental payments, and the contents of her storage space were removed and her crime discovered.

Craig Larotonda
Craig Larotonda

"She was living somewhere in Pennsylvania when they finally arrested her last year."

Additionally, he says, he's received calls and e-mails from fellow law enforcement officials across the nation who have worked similar cases over the years.

Dallas forensic pathologist Dr. Linda Norton, a highly regarded expert on infant deaths, says such cases are not that unusual. "And," she says, "neither is the killing and discarding of newborn infants. If the truth were known, there are probably far more instances than we'd ever want to imagine. A baby is so easy to hide. Put it in a Dumpster and most likely it winds up in a landfill the next day, never to be seen again. Bury it and in no time the body decomposes to a point where there is virtually nothing left. It sounds horrible, but when you talk about the things supposedly civilized people do, it too often becomes stranger than any fiction you'll ever read."

Only recently, a headline in the local papers told of a just-born child found discarded in a strip-mall trash bin in Hurst. Sad, horrifying, but hardly front-page news these days.

After a review of the facts of the Brown County case, Dr. Norton agrees with investigators that their most likely suspects are those who have resided in the house. "Or," she adds, "someone connected to someone who lived in the house.

"I'll bet you this: The person who hid the bodies away in the crawl space also made the door they found in the back of that closet. They cut the small door to be able to get access to the crawl space to hide the bag. Then, in an effort to keep the door from being conspicuous, they built the closet in front of it."

It is, she acknowledges, only speculation that flames the imagination and passes the time as everyone waits for real answers.

In a more perfect marriage of criminal investigation and journalism, there would, at this point in the story, be some degree of resolution; some insight into the behavior and motive that led to the horrifying deaths and disposal of three innocents. Whoever responsible would have been arrested, charged and arraigned, and a trial date would be set. His or her--or their--troubled life history would have been thoroughly investigated and made public in print and on Action News at 10. There would have been congratulatory news conferences and some sense of relief on the part of those wrongly branded suspects.

And, most important, we would be able to identify the victims as something more personal than "mummified and skeletal remains of newborns."

Realistically, no such occurrences are likely anytime soon.

At the end of County Road 153 and in the offices of Brownwood's newly built Law Enforcement Center, the questions continue to far outnumber the answers. Despite the talent and techniques of the forensic scientists and law enforcement officials, there is an unspoken but real fear that closure might never come to a case that is too old and too cold. Too strange. Even those working long hours to see that it is solved privately wonder at the long odds of their success.

And that, along with the lost and disrupted lives, community fear and anger, confusion and frustration, only compounds the tragedy, adding another shade of darkness to the mystery.

"It is for all those reasons," says Ranger Hanna, "that we're going to solve this case. We have to." Lest it eventually fade into the realm of macabre folklore, a chilling haunted-house story to be told each October, as author Springer suggests.

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