No Bone Unturned: The Adventures of a Top Smithsonian Forensic Scientist and the Legal Battle for America's Oldest Skeletons - Jeff Benedict (2003)

Chapter 9. THE PROBE

May 4
Subterranean firearms range
Northern edge of Branch Davidian compound

Driving from Fort Worth, DiZinno and Owsley’s team were welcomed by the newly incongruous “Birthplace of Dr Pepper” billboard that announced they had arrived in Waco. The compound was still guarded by ATF agents armed with high-powered weapons. After verifying DiZinno’s ID, the agents permitted DiZinno and Owsley’s small team to enter the devastated compound. Some of the buildings were completely leveled. Others were reduced to ruins. Cleanup of the site was still ongoing.

Owsley trailed DiZinno toward the underground bunker, a concrete structure that, prior to the siege, had been used by the Davidians for target practice.

DiZinno looked at his watch. It was 4:00 P.M. Only a little over two hours of daylight remained. “I don’t know if you’re going to have any luck,” DiZinno said.

Doug only nodded.

When they reached the thirty-foot-by-one-hundred-foot building, DiZinno rolled up the bottoms of his tan cargo pants, tucking the legs inside his rubber rain boots. During the siege, the Davidians began using the shooting range as a garbage dump. Much of the mud floor was obscured under a foot and a half of vegetable cans, fruit jars, milk jugs, and foam egg containers meshed with old clothes, glass, sheets of plywood, and hair from self-administered haircuts. Saturated with urine and stagnant rainwater, the garbage made it virtually impossible to breathe without the aid of military gas masks.

Owsley pulled a white biohazardous material–resistant Tyvex suit over his jeans and short-sleeve polo shirt. Looking up, Owsley noticed that the roof had been partially torn off after the siege ended. Sunlight streamed through the exposed rafters. A single lightbulb with a long white pull string was all that remained.

Two Rangers wearing gas masks and military fatigues and carrying shovels led Owsley and DiZinno inside. In the mud, Owsley observed paw prints and numerous holes dug by the Rangers. “Well, what have you been doing to find the bodies?” Owsley asked them.

“We’ve had a cadaver dog searching,” one Ranger said, pointing to holes he had dug in spots where the German shepherd had signaled. “And we’re getting this garbage turned up. The bodies are supposedly under this garbage. But we can’t find anything.”

Owsley leaned over and observed the paw prints more closely. “With this much debris and disturbance to the site, I can see how a dog might get confused,” Owsley said, kicking back some loose trash. “Well, I might be able to help you. Have you got something to probe with?”

“Like what?”

“It needs to be something strong and sturdy.”

“There’s a piece of rebar in here,” the Ranger said, pointing to a four-foot-long steel rod sticking out of the garbage heap.

“That’ll work,” Owsley said.

Skeptical, the Rangers leaned against their shovels as Owsley inserted one end of the rod in between some metal bars on a nearby tractor. Applying all his weight to the other end, he twisted the rod into the shape of a shepherd’s crook. “I think we’re ready,” he said, holding the twisted end like a walking cane and staring straight up to the rafters.

Placing their gas masks back over their faces, the Rangers and DiZinno followed Owsley, maskless yet seemingly immune to the reeking urine and rain-soaked garbage as he walked to the back of the shooting range.

“OK, we need to have all this garbage pushed back to expose the ground,” Owsley said. DiZinno grabbed a rake and began moving debris. Three Rangers followed his lead, peeling back the waterlogged trash into a pile. Within twenty minutes, the front section of the bunker floor had been exposed.

Working in a direct line, Owsley poked the soil. It was hard and compacted, indicating to him that the soil had not previously been disturbed. He stepped along the floor, plotting out a grid on the ground. Hardly hiding their boredom, the Rangers stood impatiently as Doug worked as if no one else were present.

After further clearing, Owsley started probing along the wall toward the far side of the room. Suddenly he stopped. Saying nothing and holding the probe with his left hand, he looked up at DiZinno. Grimacing, Owsley discreetly pointed straight down with his right index finger, flexing his wrist up and down.

Inching closer, DiZinno looked at his wristwatch: 4:30. Doug had been probing for about ten minutes. DiZinno thought Owsley had some special ability, as if maybe the rebar had become a divining rod.

The soil soft, Owsley pushed down harder with the pole, penetrating more than a foot below the surface. “This area’s really spongy,” he muttered.

Stunned, the Rangers moved in closer.

“This area’s really spongy too,” he said as he pushed the rod down again. Lifting the rod from the soil created a vacuumlike sucking sound in the mud.

Pushing the rod in the ground one more time, Owsley pulled it back. The hole he had created immediately filled up with a yellow, oily fluid, an indicator of excretion of human body fat and oils. He looked up at DiZinno. “Joe, this is it!”

Owsley backed up a couple feet, puzzling the Rangers as he made a series of holes that formed a rectangular outline to define the perimeter of the disturbed area. “This should be the grave shaft,” he explained. “Let’s dig here.”

DiZinno and a Ranger started shoveling. Almost immediately they uncovered a large glove. Owsley picked up a shovel and joined them.

“There,” Owsley said, pointing.

Everyone looked down. A red, mud-caked sleeping bag emerged from the soil. Zipped shut, it was difficult to tell whether the bag was blood soaked or made of red fabric.

“That’s going to be a body right there,” Owsley insisted, gently peeling the sleeping bag back. “See? You can see it.”

“He found them!” one of the Rangers shouted.

Using his gloves to move the soil, Doug exposed a round object. “That’s probably a face coming up right here,” he said.

DiZinno and the Rangers looked on as Owsley exposed a badly decomposed human head. It faced upward. Decomposed soft tissue and a small amount of black hair were still present. Minutes later, the sleeping bag was removed, revealing an entire body in the supine position. The arms were extended downward; the legs were slightly bent. Argyle socks were on both feet. The individual, a male, was wearing blue jeans and a dark colored “Magbag” shirt over a T-shirt. A knee brace was noticeable under the jeans. Owsley noted the items with the body: a foam pillow, some 35-mm color slides in plastic slide cases, a bedsheet, and a wadded-up knit sweater.

Owsley paused. “It looks like there’s another body under this one.”

DiZinno resumed digging.

“It’s a female,” Owsley said. She too had been wrapped in a sleeping bag, her left hand by her side, her right hand draped across her chest. She wore glasses and a Star of David necklace. A watch was still strapped to her wrist. She was fully clothed, her feet clad in white high-top basketball shoes.

Over the next two and a half hours, the Rangers helped Owsley and DiZinno fully expose the grave shaft, which was four feet deep and contained all four missing persons. To Owsley it was as if they were stacked like cordwood.

Sweat running down his face, a Ranger rested on his shovel. “I don’t mind diggin’,” he said, looking at Owsley. “If they want me to dig holes, I’ll dig all day long for ’em. But I’m gonna find that cadaver dog and shoot it.”

Everyone laughed.

Outside the shooting range, DiZinno, drenched in sweat, removed his gas mask. “I would never have believed that you found these if I hadn’t witnessed it myself,” DiZinno said.

“Well, you learn to read the soil,” Owsley said. “I was looking for differences in texture and soil density. I was looking for fresh disturbance.”

DiZinno shook his head. “I’ll always remember this day.”