Lancaster house searched for clues to woman's bones

The Garrard County coroner's office began a systematic search of an old, vacant house in Lancaster on Friday, hoping to learn the identity of a woman whose bones were found there earlier this month.

County coroner Daryl Hodge said Friday afternoon that searchers had found a few insignificant items, none of which shed any new light on the woman's identity or how her remains came to be in the building.

"At this point, we're not sure whether a crime even occurred," he said. "It's a mystery."

The bones were discovered Aug. 16 in an old coffin in the middle of the living room of the first floor of the vacant house. It's part of a row of old buildings on West Buford Street in Lancaster that are slated for demolition to make way for a new county judicial center.

According to officials, some boxes were stacked on top of the coffin, but there had been no obvious attempt to hide it.

Dr. Emily Craig, the state's chief forensic anthropologist, examined the bones and said they appeared to belong to a woman about 20 years of age who probably had died in childbirth. The remains are thought to be less than 50 years old.

With no other evidence immediately available, Hodge closed the case. But he reopened it after a deputy turned up some more evidence in the house on Wednesday.

Hodge has declined to say what that evidence is.

The bones apparently had never been buried, Hodge said

Officials have said, however, that the bones of the woman's hands and feet, as well as some of her other bones, were not with the remains, and have yet to be found.

Friday Hodge said that finding the missing bones is a primary goal of the ongoing search.

The process is slow because searchers are working their way through decades of accumulated debris.

"We're talking about a lot of junk," Hodge said.

The frame house has two stories and an attic and basement, and at one time in the 1970s was used as a church.

According to Hodge, the last time it was known to be occupied was in the late 1970s. Searchers found some newspapers from the 1990s in the basement, but they don't know how they got there, he said.

Hodge said that before the county acquired the property it was owned by an absentee landlord named Jane Bullock, who apparently had inherited it.

He said he hoped to complete the search Friday, but that the slow pace of the work might make that impossible.

"We're going through it from top to bottom," he said.

Hodge said that if no more bones are found, he plans to consult with Craig, the forensic anthropologist, on what the next step should be.