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A Tale of Fatal Feuds and Futile Forensics

A Smithsonian anthropologist digs for victims of a West Virginia mob murder

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As for Haley and McCoy, Owsley and Richardson suggest that decades of water, streaming through the grave, may have deteriorated the bones, washing away their traces. Alternating periods of wet and dry would have done the same, even more quickly. Artifacts like buttons and buckles were never there if the corpses weren't clothed. Bullets? Handcuffs? The answer is a shrug. Kirk says he and Hartford feel the remains are there — maybe deeper, or tucked in an undercut. There's no evidence of grave robbery.

The mystery fits the region. The old hills are part of nature's plan, and so are the leather-tough country people who live in their shadows. Just as nature floods out the green and fertile glens, and burns off dry timber with a lightning strike, so bad times come to the hill people. Hardship and frustration can fuse a brutal human explosion. Then, as in ravaged land, wounds heal and are blessedly forgotten. The dig for Milt Haley and Green McCoy followed all forensic rules, yet failed. But rules don't always hold up around here. Sometimes all you can do is shrug, and listen to a little mountain music.

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