Woman says bodies may be buried there

Up a well-groomed trail that meanders through groves of some of the world’s tallest trees, Del Norte County authorities on Tuesday looked for signs of possible murder victims.At a place known in local lore as a communal gathering place for hippies and transients — Earth Peoples Park off the Little Bald Hills Trail — investigators searched the ground for burial sites that might contain the bodies of up to five people.While they didn’t find any obvious signs of graves, a cadaver dog alerted at one of the spots.Officials found the location of the possible graves after the victim in a recent assault and battery case said she witnessed something terrible there about four years ago. She told them she saw her alleged attacker execute a man in the woods.She also said there could be more bodies. “I’m hoping there isn’t a body up there, but if there is I hope we find it,” Del Norte County District Attorney Investigator A.C. Field said. “We have to act on something like this even if it’s not true. We have to do our due diligence.”
The District Attorney’s Office became aware of the purported murder Friday when the assault victim unexpectedly disclosed the information to a prosecutor.
According to a search warrant that was signed by Superior Court Judge Robert Weir on Tuesday, the assault victim said she was living at Earth Peoples Park several years ago with the 51-year-old defendant in the battery case and growing marijuana.
One day, she said, she heard the man yelling at another man about the marijuana grow. This unidentified man was tied to a tree and she claims she watched her acquaintance shoot him in the face with a gun from about three feet away, the search warrant states.
She said she ran back to a cabin in the park, but the gunman saw her and later told her that he would kill her if she ever told anyone about what she had just witnessed, the warrant states.
While the search warrant didn’t state that the woman actually saw a man being buried, it did note that she believed there were multiple grave sites in or around Earth Peoples Park.
The Triplicate is withholding the names of the man and woman because authorities have not found a body.
Authorities have said the victim’s statement seems credible, at least in the case of the killing she claims to have witnessed. Part of that reasoning, they say, comes from her alleged assailant’s background.
“He’s done it before,” Field said.
The search warrant states the man was convicted of voluntary manslaughter with a firearm in 1990. But this charge was subsequently reduced to involuntary manslaughter after an appeal.
He is currently being tried on the assault and battery charges in Del Norte Superior Court.
Authorities executed the search warrant at Earth Peoples Park on Tuesday. Though it is surrounded by Redwood National and State Parks land as well as by U.S. Forest Service property, it is a private inholding that is known as a place where transients and those entrenched in counterculture camp or hide out.
“All I know is that it was sort of like a communal living place,” Del Norte County sheriff’s Detective Ed Fleshman said.
It’s about 2 miles up from the Little Bald Hills trailhead that starts on Howland Hill Road in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, and is located just off the pathway through some underbrush.
Fleshman and other law enforcement officials secured the possible crime scene Monday evening. What they found was an abandoned camp, made up of several intertwining trails leading to empty tents, a ramshackle building with its back wall missing and an outdoor marijuana garden. Two dogs had been left behind, hiding from the sun as best they could while tethered to leashes.
On Tuesday, the alleged assault victim escorted authorities around the recently vacated encampment, showing possible burial sites where they might find the man she allegedly saw murdered as well as others who might have been killed out there over the years.
“I think it’s really possible given the time span, the amount of years involved, that we could find several bodies out here,” Fleshman said, adding that there were several spots pointed out as possible unmarked graves. “Our biggest thing is to preserve the scene.”
A Del Norte County Search and Rescue cadaver dog was used to try and determine if there were any buried bodies.
While nothing was confirmed Tuesday, Assistant Search and Rescue Coordinator Peggy Thomas said the dog did make a preliminary discovery.
“It was not a strong hit, but it was a hit,” Thomas said, noting that her dog has never had a “false hit” before.
Search and Rescue will go back to the park with the cadaver dog today to continue searching for clues, and Sheriff’s Office officials said they will likely try to organize an archeological team to come to the site.
“This is an active investigation,” Fleshman said. “It’s a very serious active investigation.”

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