BATTLE CREEK, Mich. -- A mysterious situation that prompted a full forensics investigation in Battle Creek, would eventually end up being nothing more than one man's search for antique bottles...and a very useful and well-appreciated training exercise, police say.
Rather than paraphrase the lengthy press release about this investigation, here is what Battle Creek Police sent out to local media, in its entirety:
On Tuesday, October 5, 2016, at 1:42 pm, Battle Creek Police received a call from a woman about seeing a man digging a hole in a vacant lot behind her in the 100 block of West Van Buren St. She said the man had a blue tarp and looked like he put something in the waist deep hole the day before.
Battle Creek Officers found disturbed ground where the sod had been put back. This was in a back corner of the lot, partially obscured by trees and tall grass. Officers began digging and found clear markings of a hole that had been recently dug and filled in. Some paper was found a few inches below the surface that didn't appear to have been in the ground long.
We called the lot owner listed in City property files who said they had sold the lot to the Calhoun County Land Bank. The Land Bank did not have record of that sale. The property owner, a local rental business, did not give any indication of any problems they were aware of at the property.
Forensic Lab Technicians were called in and began hand digging in the area. Given information of an unknown male digging with a tarp and possibly burying something, care was taken to preserve any possible evidence in the hole. No specific information led us to believe this was related to a crime, but there are cold cases and other investigations that still have missing evidence. Erring on the side of caution, the decision was made to excavate the hole.
A clear hole of loose dirt was found to be about three feet long by two feet wide. Digging down, lab specialists found some paper remnants, a cigarette butt, an energy bar wrapper, a large rock and an empty brandy bottle. Further down, some bricks were also found.
Officers dug about five feet down before reaching undisturbed soil. No evidence of any crime was found even though the condition of the dirt clearly showed a hole had recently been dug.
All of the foreign items found in the hole were preserved and collected as possible evidence.
After a local news station aired the story, a man called into Dispatch requesting to speak with officers. He said he had been digging in that lot on Monday.
After talking with him, a Kalamazoo resident, he said he had been given permission by the property owner to dig in the lot for antique bottles. He would use a tarp for the dirt and put the sod back to leave the lot undisturbed. The man's account matched what we found in the hole and the nature in which it appeared to have been dug. He was cooperative and apologetic that we had spent most of the day out there.
Despite spending several hours searching for evidence that was non existent, this turned out to be beneficial real-life training for our forensic lab technicians in processing a crime scene like this. Hand digging for evidence is not a skill that is easily practiced and this provided invaluable experience should we ever encounter a similar crime scene.
We would also like to thank the Kalamazoo man for contacting us and clearing this situation up, allowing us to close the hole on the investigation without further efforts.