Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department
Description of Incident.
Dispatch received a pay phone call from Ben Archer, 106 Fairlawn Drive, Oxford, at 6:47 AM. Archer had been out for his morning walk and reported he'd found a body in a wooden box in the woods. Officers Graham and Marlowe were on patrol at the time and picked up Archer at the pay phone. They then proceeded to the site, Archer led them to the body, which was buried in a wooded area behind Fairlawn Cemetery. Marlow radioed for backup and secured the scene. I arrived with the Forensic team at 7:06 AM.
The box had been partially uncovered by Archer and his dog. The perpetrator had apparently created a ground covering of grass, twigs, and leaves in a realistic fashion, after burial of the box. The portion of the box uncovered by Archer and his dog was positioned under the branches of a briar-like shrub. Upon peering into the opening, a grill, set into the wood, was visible about 40 inches below ground level. Through the grill, the victim's head could be seen.
After photographing the scene, we uncovered the box completely, [The box was approximately 7' X 3' X 4' ] it was constructed of 3/4" plywood, nailed together. The exterior of the box was marked with a variety of language. The words "Bitch", most prominent. The top surface of the lid had additional nail holes in it, suggesting that it had been removed and replaced at least once. Det.. Anderson and Forensics Officer Mahoney took the lid and nails that had secured the lid, to the lab.
The victim was laying on her back at the center of the box, wrapped in a dirty white blanket and a plastic sheet. Her arms were pulled against her chest and her legs straight. The victim's eyes and mouth were closed. There were visible contusions on her forehead and left cheek and abrasions around her neck, suggesting possible strangulation.
The interior of the box was decorated with more graffiti. Most visible were the words "You Bitch", from earlier photographs. The box also contained a large shelf, four ballpoint pens, an empty cracker box, scattered dried blossoms and leaves, a drainage hole and a light bulb socket. There was no bulb.
The victim's body was positioned at the center of the box, covering the drainage hole. No part of the body was touching the sides of the box. Aside from the contusions, the victim appeared clean, and her hair was neatly combed.
Cutting the sheet open revealed the victim. There were bruises on her upper and lower legs and her left forearm. It appeared that her right forearm had been broken. Welts and cuts on her feet were also evident. The victim's torso had several small cuts on it, but no visible bruises. Based on the degree of acute rigor and decomposition, the coroner estimated that the victim had been dead for seven days. (Later examination determined this time to be 30 hours. The discrepency caused by conditions in the box). The sheets, the body, and the box were taken back to the lab.
The site surrounding the burial consisted of a sandy clearing in a pine grove. The bark of the tree to the North of the box had been peeled back, revealing scratch marks in the trunk. Due to recent rains, there were no clear footprints or other signs of human visitation or habitation.
I interviewed Mr. Archer, who said he discovered the body when his dog broke away from the leash and ran into the woods. When the dog didn't respond to Archer's calls, Archer said he went into the woods to investigate. He said he found the dog in the clearing, where an unidentified boy of 10-11 was crouching near the shrub and crying. Archer said he approached the boy, but the boy jumped up and ran away. Archer's dog had begun digging under the shrub, and when he pulled the dog away Archer said he saw part of the box and began digging himself. When Archer spotted the victim through the grill, he left the scene to telephone the police.
Archer said he often walks along Fairlawn but that the dog has never run into the woods. Archer said he walks two or three times a week and works out at the university gym on the other days. Archer is a student loan administrator in the Bursar's office. Archer added that the dog has run off a few times in the past week, but that it happens pretty often. Archer said he never saw anyone else on foot during his morning walks, although some of his neighbors leave for work by car at that hour. He said he had never seen the boy before.
I interviewed several other residents of Fairlawn Drive, who all said they hadn't seen anything unusual in the past few weeks.
I also called on Jerry Murphy, owner of the Fairlawn cemetery. He said the woods behind the cemetery were technically part of his property, but he'd never used them and didn't plan any new construction there. He said his father bought the cemetery in 1962 and had never done much with the wooded area. He added the kids sometimes cut through the woods to get into town, but that otherwise, not many people get back there. He said he hadn't been there himself in several years. Murphy said he usually comes to the cemetery around 9 Am and locks up by 6 PM on most days.
REPORT FILED JUNE 9, 1997
BY DETECTIVE ARMSTRONG