Texas Ranger Shawn Palmer and Terrell Hills Police Department Investigator Boyd Wedding drove into the hardscrabble countryside of southeast Bexar County to follow up a lead on the afternoon of January 14, 2003. Only miles from the thriving downtown of San Antonio, the eighth largest city in the United States, this rural area looked worlds away from the glitter of the Majestic Theatre and the majesty of the Cadena-Reeves Justice Center.
Palmer and Wedding traveled past well-maintained ranch homes, old farmhouses with peeling paint, seedy trailers with broken windows, overgrown fields and occasional piles of illegally dumped mattresses, broken appliances and other no longer desirable accoutrements of civilization. The investigators’ destination was an abandoned farm owned by Clark Barkmeyer at 9394 South W.W. White Road. Although, as always, the two men hoped this lead would be productive, they knew they followed many to nowhere—they knew the many miles they walked to find nothing at all. They squashed their optimism under the weight of the hard lessons they had learned.
They pulled into the dusty side street. A mound of dirt blocked the end of the drive leading into the property. The owner created that barrier a short time ago to discourage trespassers. The tall dried weeds and weary buildings on the unkempt property spoke of dying dreams and shattered hope. There was no warmth and no welcome here.
Both officers headed straight for the empty house. Inside, it looked as if the last occupant woke up one morning and walked away. Clothing, small personal items and an occasional weary piece of furniture filled each room. Dust covered every surface and sparkled in the sunlight trickling through the windows. The refrigerator was well stocked, but, without electricity, its contents were rotten and rancid.
They moved trash aside searching for any place a body could be concealed. They peered into corners looking for any signs of an altercation that could point to a crime occurring inside this dwelling. Nothing raised the slightest suspicion.
Outside of the house, the two men split up down an invisible line that ran the length of the property from the road. Wedding took the right half, Palmer the left. In addition to looking for a body, they were looking for any signs of a fire—witnesses reported something burning on this land.
Flattened brown grass crunched under Palmer’s feet as he walked the short distance to the detached garage just north of the residence. The double doors hung open. From the disrupted dirt scraped and mounded around the doorway, it looked as if someone had opened the door wider a short time ago.
Next, Palmer moved to the small outbuilding, thirty-six steps from the garage. It was a strange structure, slapped together with big sheets of Styrofoam insulation.
Palmer stood still and listened to the whispered sounds of movement inside. He exercised caution as he eased open the door. He was greeted by a litter of nine- to ten-week-old black puppies with white chests and tan feet squirming out of their makeshift bed to beg for attention. Scattered through this building were more signs of an impulsive departure in the past—articles of clothing, household items and other detritus of daily life.
Near this building a Datsun pickup truck bed converted into a pull-along trailer caught Palmer’s eye. As he neared it, a foul odor blending the corruption of decomposition and the nauseous stench of burnt flesh drew his attention as it offended his senses. He yelled for his partner.
Wedding, meanwhile, walked a zig-zag path through the field. He found a 1988 Chevrolet Camaro stolen two days before Christmas—not in any way connected to the case they were investigating.
Then, he turned his attention to the barn. It was a derelict wooden building, appearing as if it would collapse to the ground in a light gust of wind. Hanging from the huge rafters were scythes, rakes and other farming implements ready to fall on an unsuspecting head and harvest a life.
Wedding was so focused on the barn and its contents, he did not hear the repeated calls from Palmer. He contemplated the risk of going inside. Just before he stepped across the threshold, he turned his head in his partner’s direction. Palmer saw the movement and windmilled his arms in the air.
As Wedding headed toward him, Palmer took a closer look at the trailer. On the surface of the rubble in the bed were wires and the metal skeletons of electronic devices marred by flames and rust—perhaps the television and VCR reportedly gone from the missing woman’s Explorer.
Beneath that debris, Palmer spotted what he both hoped and dreaded he would find—the curve of human rib bones, an upper arm bone and the roundness of a shoulder. The surfaces were crusty, cracked and browned, but still the bones screamed out their humanity. He confirmed this deduction when his eyes found the unmistakable shape of a human skull.
He looked closer at the pyre and saw metal springs. Then his eye caught an interesting piece of litter tucked in the corner. It was plastic packaging, curled and puckered from the heat—a strip of wrappers that once held Wyler’s Authentic Italian Ices. Palmer knew their suspect, Richard McFarland, was obsessed with this snack. And he knew he found the missing woman.
He walked toward the approaching Wedding. “I found her,” he said.
“Where’s she at?” Wedding asked.
Pointing, Palmer answered, “Over there in the trailer.”
Wedding approached, taking great care not to touch or disturb any possible evidence. He looked hard at the contents, but could not identify anything that looked human. Palmer pointed out the curves of the charred bones and then Wedding, too, knew the fate of Sue McFarland. The hunt was over.
Copyright © 2006 by Diane Fanning