07 July 2023

Not In My Backyard?

 Recently, I saw a post on Facebook suggesting (I hope humorously) one bury murder victims upright because satellites can look for people-sized six-foot holes. Of course, I had to check it out. Turns out, the tongue-in-cheek post had a kernel of truth. Using animals and donated cadavers, scientists in various countries took ground readings. A fresh body will cause the ground to bulge out. A decayed body will cause a depression as the organic material dissolves.

Of course, disposing of a dead body poses all sorts of issues. Living near the Ohio River, I hear at least two stories a year about either bodies disappearing in America's third longest river or turning up in or near it. A few years ago, a police officer fell off the Clay-Wade Bailey Bridge downtown and disappeared. It took several weeks to find his body. However, in the process, police departments in Ohio and Kentucky solved quite a few cold cases. They found bodies, just not the officer's body until about two months later. On the other hand, two children, both killed by their mothers' boyfriends, remain missing after the killers each admitted dumping them in the Ohio River. Different incidents within a month of each other, same result. Both killers are behind bars now.

But it makes me wonder what people have buried in their backyards. I often wondered if I could successfully bury gold in my own backyard. Not gold purchased through some weird website advertised by a dork who makes Vanilla Ice* look gangsta. I mean getting a hold of gold coins, gold jewelry, etc. and stowing it beneath my lawn. Sink a concrete vault and slip out at night to put my ill-gotten booty back there. There are a number of problems with this, not the least of which is my neighbors can all see me digging a big hole back there. Shades of Tom Waits's "What's He Building in There?" And besides, gold's not all it's cracked to be as an investment. One ill-timed boom, and good luck pawning Grandma's wedding ring. (I got more for my silver wedding ring from a previous marriage than my wife got for a gold ring her father gave her.)

But the 1950s were boom years for bomb shelters. Many remain intact, assuming developers haven't planted McMansions over them. Most are used for storage anymore. Some have become man caves and she sheds. (Is that still a thing?) A few prepper types keep their supplies in them. Most were left abandoned. An old bomb shelter, particularly connected to a house by a tunnel, can hide all sorts of ill-gotten booty (or bodies.) Going back to my idea of sinking a vault in the backyard, there are some things to consider. For instance, my house sits on a man-made rise to lift it above potential flash floods. Additionally, my neighbors have an in-ground pool. Every spring and fall, my backyard is... Moist. The stagnant water potential is enormous.

But where do you hide something you don't want others to find? If you own property that stands vacant, you're further ahead of the game than most. My aunt and uncle divided their old dairy farm into lots for their sons. Two built houses. The other, who prefers urban life, built a private campground. If they so chose, something valuable or someone inconvenient could spend years there never to be found. (Given one of the family is related to the sheriff in that county, this is probably not a wise idea. But I'm a writer. I make things up using what I know or find out.)

Closer to home, I used to know a former IRS agent who sank his earnings into property. Now, if I were to buy houses or buildings, I'd likely rent them out as quickly as possible. My friend did not. My friend was the most organized hoarder you'll ever meet. He would go through Big Lots and buy whatever struck him and just stash it. When he ran out of room at his house, he started using one of his vacant properties. Then another. He had at least two houses full of stuff he bought at Big Lots or flea markets or yard sales. Why did he buy all that stuff? Even he can't explain it. But I'll bet his hoarding stash was neater than your house or mine. (And my wife is a clean freak.)

Then there's the wilderness. Only in the eastern parts of these United States, where I live, there's not a lot of wilderness left. The closest to me is the Wayne National Forest, which covers a large swath of Southeast Ohio. But the region is crawling with hikers year-round. Your buried treasure or that business partner who "left town" before he could ruin you is just a stumbling tourist away from being found. Out west is better, where you can drive nearly a hundred miles between gas stations. I drove through Nevada a few years back and realized I could drive right off the road into the desert and leave something (or someone) out there never to be found. If it's something I want back, this is probably a bad idea, since I'd have to remember where I left it. The Rockies and, back east, Appalachians might be a better bet. Mountains have certain features that change little and are seldom visited. Probably better for that haul from your bank heist than your rich relative who put you in the will. 

*Vanilla Ice flips houses these days. Which means he's better with money than he is rapping. Also smarter than the dork in the gold commercial.


  1. I buried my beloved cat in my backyard, under the lilac trees. And, as a child, I made arrowheads and buried them in the backyard just to mess with future archaeologists. As far as hiding something you don't want others to find, make it look worthless and/or hide it in plain sight? Because, as you said, there isn't a lot of wilderness left.

  2. Elizabeth Dearborn07 July, 2023 14:37

    My grandfather was a gold prospector in Alaska & my grandmother's wedding ring is made of pure gold that he panned. It softens up after a person wears it a few hours. My younger sister has the ring now.

  3. I like the decomposing body causing a depression, visible from satellite, Jim! Gotta use that in a book someday (which may be hard, because my current series is on an ocean liner...)

  4. Turns out you can search large areas with drones equipped with various kinds of cameras- heat detecting/multispectral imaging. Decomposition causes a temperature differential with the surrounding space. https://www.forensicmag.com/565175-Texas-State-To-Study-the-Use-of-Drones-to-Locate-Human-Remains/

  5. In a local (Orlando) scandal, Champ Williams and his influential family had the airport food concessions contract, and frankly their food and French bread was excellent. Unfortunately, they under-reported their airport earnings. To hide their illegal proceeds, with the help of a corrupt state attorney they obtained and buried gold Krugerrands. So yes, people do bury gold in their back yard. Sadly, one brother committed suicide and the rest of the males in the family went to prison. The women were allowed to walk. The crooked state attorney… just skated past the statute of limitations and not only avoided prison, he kept his job.

    I was remodeling a house and when I tore out the old bathtub, I was surprised to find sand and soil under it, not concrete. What a perfect private cemetery for one.


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