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DIGGING UP BONES

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Allen County Coroner Jon Brandenberger at the crime scene between the leaf dump site and the Saint Mary’s River.On location at Tillman Park

 

On Monday, Nov 12, a hiker found some human bones about 800 feet southwest of Tillman Park parking lot. Next to the bones was a mountain bike. The area around the bones showed signs of a fire and there were a few personal effects in addition to the bicycle. On Tuesday, Nov 13th, Stephen Nawrocki, a forensic anthropologist from Indianapolis was called in to do a study of the area. He along with six students laid out an archeological grid and recovered all the information from the crime scene. He took it back to Indy for analysis.

I remember Tillman Park as the Tillman Dump. When I was growing up in Waynedale, it was not unusual to take a pickup load of rubbish down Lower Huntington Road, across the old iron Stellhorn Bridge. We would turn right on Tillman Road and then right again into the Tillman dump. Those were the days before regular trash pick-up.

The old dump is now closed to the public, but the city still uses it for dumping leaves. There is a small parking area in front and the Rivergreenway passes through the parking area and terminates at the ball diamonds where the old Hillcrest Drive-Inn used to be. I know the area well, as I ride my bicycle through Foster Park and that area almost every morning.

I went over to the crime scene Tuesday afternoon, Nov.13th. I walked past the iron gate that is kept locked. The iron gate has a stop sign on it, but someone had painted the words "NO FAGS" on it. Someone else had painted over the graffiti in an attempt to cover it up but a shadow remained. I walked back across an ancient culvert and into the dump area. There is not much remaining of the old dumpsite. A few partially covered old tires and miscellaneous junk mark the passing of the dump into the modern-day leaf disposal facility.

Jon Brandberger, the Allen County Coroner was there. He showed me the area where Steve Nawrocki and his team of students were working. The crime scene was between the dump and the Saint Mary's River. It was in a heavily wooded area that was not a part of the dump itself. The area was slightly raised above the river and it would have been difficult to approach it from the river. I wasn't able to shoot any pictures of the actual anthropological work being performed as it was a designated crime scene and they didn't want to prejudice their investigation.

I wanted to get some pictures of the crime scene and since the original bones were in Indy, I went over to Boyd Tarney's place and borrowed some bones he had picked up in Wyoming. They weren't human bones but I figured they would work for the pictures. Last Sunday, Nov. 18th; I went back to the dump with the borrowed bones. I knew that Stephen and his students had removed everything of relevance so I wasn't concerned about disturbing evidence. I pulled into Tillman Park sometime after noon. There were a few cars parked in the lot and there were various joggers and bikers using the greenway. I walked past the iron gate, through the old dump, and back into the woods where the bones had been found. The woods is pretty dense as you get closer to the river and I was having trouble finding the exact spot. I heard someone approaching. It was a bearded guy that looked like one of the Oakridge Boys. "Heard they found a body back in here!" he said.

"Yea," I answered.

"Looks like ya got a bag of bones," he said,

"Ya," I answered. I had the bones in one of those light plastic, grocery bags. I hadn't realized that the bag was translucent enough to see the contents. I continued looking for the crime scene, and the bearded guy disappeared into the woods. He didn't ask what I was doing in the woods with a bag of bones, and I didn't volunteer any information.

Monday Nov 19th, I started putting together the facts I had, a few bones and a lot of speculation. I called the Coroner's office and Lynn Armstrong answered. He had been on the police force for many years, and now works for the Coroner's Office. Lynn explained that the bone mystery was just one of many deaths that the Coroner's Office works on. They had worked on 549 deaths in 2000 and were already up to 565 this year. They work on homicides, suicides, and various other unexplained deaths. I then called Stephen Nawrocki in Indy. He would talk about procedures and methods but could not give me any specific information on the Tillman Park bones.

On Tuesday Nov 20th, I called the Coroner's Office to find out if there were any new developments. Jon Brandenberger called me back and told me they thought they knew the identity of the missing person and they had sent dental records to Indy for a confirmation. It is good that science can do so much with so little. It will be interesting to follow this case in hopes of finding a final resolution to the Tillman Park bones.

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