Friday, April 15, 2022

The One That Broke Us

Today’s post is a writing challenge. This is how it works: participating bloggers picked 4 – 6 words or short phrases for someone else to craft into a post. All words must be used at least once and all the posts will be unique as each writer has received their own set of words. That’s the challenge, here’s a fun twist; no one who’s participating knows who got their words and in what direction the writer will take them. Until now.

My words are:

stairway ~ generation ~ holy ~ flower ~ scent

It was submitted by:


The house was unassuming white clapboard. Boring. So bland it could be outperformed by flour. The yard really made up for it though. Every inch had been meticulously groomed with styled garden beds and sculptures. There were mini fountains and bird feeders and every color of flower imaginable. Birds flocked to this mini garden of Eden and shared space with chittering squirrels and buzzing bees. Almost like a fairytale, a Disney princess origin story.

But not even the sweetness of the competing sights or smells or the beauty and bounty of flora and fauna could make up for the scent of decomp that hung so heavily in the air you'd still taste it hours later or the horrors being uncovered at 248 Boxwood Lane.

For that matter, none of it detracted from the mystery unfolding in the backyard for the last week either.

It all started with a stench and a nosy neighbor. The guys who first showed up to do their due diligence and fill out a meaningless report thinking this would be another of Ms. Regina "Busybody" Goodwin's wild (and numerous) claims figured out pretty quickly that this was no boy cries wolf (or seething spiteful spinster calls the cops) type of deal. The smell was undeniably a dead body before they even reached the front door of the unfortunate soul who had been living next to Ms. Goodwin.

When the cops knocked on the door, the man inside opened up, held up his hands, and said "well I guess you finally got me" and refused to speak another word without an attorney present. They went to look in the backyard and apparently one of them hadn't stopped mumbling "holy shit" randomly under his breath ever since.

Yes, it was that bad.

When the cops placed the man, whose name we still don't actually know for sure though his mail came to Sanford Walsh, in the back of the car, the Holy Shit guy took a look out back while his partner kept an eye on Walsh. And what he found was a very flooded yard from a ruptured main and body parts in various stages of decomposition floating in the muddy pools or lying on the little islands of higher land and covering just about every bit of the place.

An almost skeleton arm does not belong in the lower stems of an azalea bush.

They called for backup being totally out of their league on how to handle a cemetery's worth of bodies in a person's yard. Detectives showed up and crime scene techs and the coroner... Then an m.e., the state cops and then the FBI and a behavioral scientist. And that was all before things got weird. Ok they were already weird but not in comparison to where they end up. Trust me.

This is where I come in. Anthropology isn't usually this weird, so when I got the call I thought it was a prank. I mean I've handled a few consults on cases of skeletal remains because I do biological anthropological examinations and studies, but my expertise is more in line with indigenous societies in north America before Europeans settled on the continent. And the m.e., a sharp old broad named Sandra, knew that about me. She said that was exactly why she called me, but that just didn't seem possible. A murder case that needed my expertise? Being investigated now? I got in the car and headed down anyway, but nothing about our conversation made sense.

I should have stayed home. I don't think any of us that worked this case will ever be the same again. Most days I feel like if I ever look at another bone, it will be too soon.

While the first detectives and techs worked on the scene, I was blissfully unaware that my life was about to be changed forever the moment I got tangled up with the Walsh case. Not his name. I still have no idea what his name is or was. But that's what we called him especially at the beginning. It wasn't until later that we found absolutely no information on this guy under that name. It was just just a placeholder. A costume perhaps. But the house and the land... The house had generation after generation of history. Funny thing, that.

He wouldn't talk to police after his initial "you finally got me." He became almost catatonic really. No answers to questions. No eye contact. No requests. He'd just sat there staring into whatever black void he resided in and hummed the tune of Daisy Bell over and over and over until he snapped to attention like he'd been jolted away by a cattle prod and demanded an attorney before returning back to his humming state. The officers keeping an eye on him said it was like a switch had been flipped on in his brain and switched right back off. Apparently it happened at his arraignment. It happened when he finally got assigned an attorney--the attorney he'd demanded to have.

Creepy, right? Well you don't know the fucking half of it.

I got to the house with very little information to go on. I was weirded out already. My expertise. I knew it was bad, that multiple bodies had been found, but I had no idea. By the time I was called in, folks had been digging for a few days. The hole in the yard had grown so big and so deep, a stairway had been fashioned for those working on site to get down to the bottom.

Sandra was down in that pit when I arrived and called for me to join her. Her hair was uncharacteristically messy and her eyes were wild. I got the feeling she was on the verge of losing it. It was written plainly across her usually stoic face.

She nearly pulled me down the last few steps hurrying me along until I finally yelled, "Sandra what the fuck is going on? You look like you haven't slept in days."

"I haven't. And probably won't for a long time yet."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

She took a deep breath and sighed. She looked rough. Bags, dark circles...her face puffy like she'd spent a few nights crying over a cheating partner. And then she told me.

The yard had been flooded and full of parts so after some folks were called in to turn off the main and pump out some of the water, the techs were finally able to get to work. Everything that could be seen was collected and then the yard was taped off in a grid. 12 people total took one square each and sifted the top layer--well, about a foot anyway--looking for more bones. They found some. The grid stayed behind and each square was then dug out to 3 feet and sifted. More. Again and again and again they dug into the earth finding body after body. Sandra looked at these bones each time and with each layer. She pointed out the stratification of the ground surrounding the excavation area and I could see it for myself. I could see dozens of artifacts laid out in one square of the grid and still more bones being dug out in others.

Sandra walked me over to the artifacts and looked at me with pleading eyes. She said, "I can't be sure until I get the results back from the lab dating these bodies, but they're old. I know they're old. And I need you to tell me we've stumbled on some kind of burial ground or mass grave that has nothing to do with anything else in this fucking hell scape of a yard."

She let me look through the artifacts. I already knew right then nothing I was looking at was modern. This was the genuine thing. So I took a square to dig for myself and got a look at the layout. It didn't seem like a mass grave. The bodies weren't one on top of one another. And nothing said burial mound. The artifacts included weren't really the type of grave offerings you'd expect to see in these types of burial sites. These were regular items. Things people might be wearing or things used in body modification or fastening cloth. The bodies were not spaced out enough for individual graves in the way I was used to seeint and not close enough for family sites or a mass grave. I looked at her photos and maps of body locations and everything was just too methodical. Bodies corresponded to each other in each layer.

There really wasn't any way anymore to tell exactly how any of these people had died, but the freshest bodies had their throats cut and a whole lot of other trauma... Given that information it didn't seem like a burial site in the traditional sense but how else could all these bodies get in this one space? I had more questions than answers but it certainly wasn't a mass grave or anything I recognized as a typical grave site for the societies I had studied.

I told Sandra. I told her all the things she hadn't wanted to hear and that I'd like to get a better look at the bones she already transported, but she shook her head and walked to the steps..."I'm done. I don't want to know any more. You'll have to get someone else."

It seemed like an overreaction to me. I could be wrong in my initial assessment. I needed more time to be sure and to look at more. I needed to see if this land had ever housed a crude cemetery. And, at most, a family tradition of murder wasn't exactly common, right? But it had happened. The Bloody Benders, the Kelly family, the bean clan... The Gonzalez Sisters in Mexico had left at least 90 bodies to be found and something like 20 of their family members had been in on it and charged along with them.

But then

There's always a "but" in these things right?

One of the techs on scene agreed to drive me to the morgue to get a look at those other bodies. She didn't seem like she wanted to talk. I'd asked if Sandra had just been overworked or if we needed to check on her, and the tech, Amy, pulled into a Denny's parking lot.

She took a deep breath and let out a shaky sigh.

"Look, I'm not really supposed to say more, but I'm going to because it's not fair to keep it from people. Sandra has always been overworked if we're honest. She doesn't have the budget for enough help and to be quite honest she needs too much control to delegate well."

She paused and I felt like I had to say something. "That tracks. I can tell that about her."

"Right. Well. She's stressed on a normal case. She's even more stressed when she feels like she needs to find an answer to help get justice for someone taken too soon. But this...this case... It's fucking batshit, ok"

"I mean yeah all this is really unsettling but the worst we're looking at here is a murder family, right? Assuming the land has stayed in the same family, the absolute worse this could be is a few generations of this family line taking up each other's murderous tendencies, right? She's handled plenty of gnarly stuff before..."

Amy signed again. She looked haunted. "No. No we don't think that's it actually."

"What? What's the deal?"

"well. We processed the house too, you know. First day. There are more bodies in the basement, by the way, and we haven't even really started digging it out to figure out how many or how far it goes." She stared out of the windshield for a long time.

"I know I'm going to sound crazy but he slept in a coffin. We found it. His windows aren't blacked out or anything but he has like a room full of spf 50 and 100 sunscreen. Just sunscreen, right? And we also found family photos. Actually we found family paintings. We have to get all these things dated of course. It's going to be a long investigation... But..." She looked straight at me, eyes wide. "They're all the same guy, Jess. I know it sounds crazy but it's all the same guy. Every photo. Smiling kids, wife, same guy. Different kids, different wife, same guy. Photos so old they're falling apart almost, same guy. Same guy. It's not just a resemblance. And I've seen Walsh. I had to look for myself. I had to. Jess, it's him. It's all the same guy."

Well, that might explain all the creepiness but there was no way I was going to just take her word for it.

We left, both unable to talk anymore, and went by the morgue. The place was filled with bones and bodies. There wasn't anywhere to store them all. A refrigerated truck had to be brought in for the time being. But Sandra was there packing her things.

"I didn't mean to make you quit, Sandra. Let me take a closer look at things. I could be wrong. I have to be wrong."

"It's not you, Jess." She looked at me. Hard. "Amy told you."

I nodded.

"Jess, I don't want to know. I've lived my entire life thinking the world was complicated but mostly logical. There were reasons people do what they do even if I could never. There were explanations and disorders and even when things were absolutely terrifying and maddening we could catch the guy and all sigh in relief that we had stopped someone. But this? I saw the photos, the portraits. I went and sat with him, Jess. I asked him. I asked him about the photos, the bodies. I asked him what year he was born and he laughed. He just laughed. I can't do this. I can't live in a world knowing this exists so I'm getting out. good luck."

And that was that.

But how do I get out of this? Because I can't pretend I don't know what these women have told me and I damn sure can't quit without some kind of answer. It will gnaw away at me for the rest of my life.

What do I do now?


Links to the other “Use Your Words” posts:

Baking In A Tornado

On the Border

The Diary of an Alzheimer’s Caregiver


Part-time Working Hockey Mom

What TF Sarah


  1. Keep digging. Literally and figuratively. She must know (and now I need to know too).

  2. This is amazing, Jenniy! Amazing. I want it to go on and on...

  3. Now that would be creepy, but in this day and age completely believable! You just never know.