Chapter 2 of 'Unearthed: Digging up secrets at Bayview Cemetery'

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 19, 2010 

SERIAL MYSTERY MELODY HITCHNER

Melody Hitchner moved to Bellingham from beautiful and sunny Okanogan to attend Western Washington University in 1999. She liked the water, mountains and most of the people so much that she decided to stay. She has been at The Herald since 2002 working in the real estate advertising, customer service and marketing departments. She lives in Lynden with her cat, Fitzwilliam Kitty.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Last week, in Chapter 1, "Disturbed Ground," Dean Kahn started our story with an unmarked grave in Bayview Cemetery being disturbed. Police say they are puzzled, but a mysterious woman says the grave may have belonged to an outlaw who terrorized Whatcom County in the early 1900s.


CHAPTER 2: THE MYSTERIOUS MAP “The detective left the case file on her desk when she went to lunch,” Ali told her husband, Rex, about the report of digging at Bayview. “When she came back, it was gone, so she asked the lieu-tenant where it was. Charlie said he’d closed the file and put it away, because obviously the hole was the work of some kids ‘just tryin’ to dig a hole to China,’ just like they did when Charlie’s grandpa was on the police force.

“Well, the detective obviously didn’t appreciate her work being taken over like that, but at the same time, the lieutenant had a point. I understood his point, until I heard the rest of your story about Jake.

“And the thing is, I recall seeing something in the paper there were two other reports three or four months ago — one in Lynden and one in an old cemetery out in the county. They chalked it up to kids playing, too. But three holes to China in three different cemeteries?”

She looked at Rex. “Seems pretty coincidental.”

“Another cemetery ‘vandalism?’” Rex thought. He decided to go out to the Lynden cemetery after work and have a look around.

It was a sunny drive up the Hannegan. He wandered through the old section of the cemetery. It wasn’t hard to find the spot Ali had mentioned. The dirt was still bare, the plot half-hidden behind an overgrown rhododendron.

The tombstones surrounding the patch of dirt were hard to read — all older, worn from decades of wind and rain, nothing after 1930. The history here, the ending and continuing of generations, calmed him and helped him think.

Rex wandered through the grounds, absently admiring the well-trimmed junipers and thinking of Angela’s story about Jake Terry. If the empty grave back at Bayview was Jake’s, and if there was treasure buried somewhere in Whatcom County, how could he learn more?

The next day Rex stopped by Western Washington University’s map library to visit his Whatcom Falls neighbor, Dale Harris. Dale knew more about local history than anybody else he knew. If there was any information about Jake’s treasure, Dale would surely know something.

Sure enough, Dale had heard the stories from his running partner — about how Jake’s treasure was said to be buried in a patch of woods Jake’s family used to own north of town.

“I don’t believe a word of it, though,” Dale said.

“No? You don’t believe in buried treasure?” Rex said with a laugh, suddenly feeling slightly foolish for thinking that treasure was a possibility.

“Oh, I think there’s probably a treasure somewhere,” Dale said, seriously. “I just don’t think it’s buried in the woods. I think it’s a little closer to home, as it were.”

“Jake’s home in Sumas?” Rex asked.

“Jake’s longtime home: the cemetery,” Dale said. “There’s always been a tradition of burying the dead with their valuables. Some folks think you can take it with you when you go. You know — jewelry, good liquor — that is, if the family members don’t snatch it all first. What if Jake was buried with something more valuable than anyone realized?”

“More valuable? Like what?” Rex wasn’t sure where Dale was going with this.

“Ahhhh,” Dale sighed. “I don’t really know myself. There’s an historian here in town who’s seems pretty sure treasure’s out there. Says he’s seen some things I wouldn’t believe. He spends a lot of time researching the old cemetery maps here and at Bayview. Apparently they’ve got some interest-ing ones. I suppose he could just be a nut job, but he sure thinks he’s got something.”

After leaving the library Rex stopped at DaVinci’s to pick up subs, all the while pondering Dale’s theory of the treasure. Ali was already home, and as they split the sandwich and a bottle of Mount Baker sangiovese he told her about his conversation with Dale and his suspicion that the unusual activity at the cemeteries was related to Jake’s treasure.

“It really seems like the department should be looking into this digging activity a little more thor-oughly,” Rex said, and sighed.

Ali nodded. “I agree, but when you’ve got unsolved rapes and murders, holes in cemeteries don’t really take priority.”

“Maybe I’m just making a mystery where there’s nothing,” Rex replied, “but Dale seemed to think there’s something going on here.”

Ali smiled, but all she said was “Good luck, honey.”

Before dawn the next day Rex was again at Bayview Cemetery with the dogs. He kept an eye out for Angela, hoping to run into her.

Then he noticed that someone, once again, had painted the eyes on the angel statue. What a shame, he thought, because Ali sometimes walked to the cemetery to gaze at Angel Eyes, as the statue was affectionately called. Ali never shared her thoughts at those times. Rex wondered what she was thinking, but he respected her wish for solitude.

After a half hour of exercise Chip and Louie were tired, their leashes dragging. They explored a pile of leaves a few feet away when, suddenly, Chip barked sharply, startling a man holding a shovel near Angel Eyes. Rex hadn’t noticed him earlier. Now the man was dashing down the hillside to-ward the city.

Rex grabbed the dogs’ leashes before they could tear after the fleeing man.

“Should I go after him?” Rex wondered. He started down the hill. The dogs surged ahead enthusi-astically, dragging him along. They hadn’t gone 20 yards before he lost sight of the stranger through the trees. Rex suddenly hit the ground hard, as if something had grabbed him around the ankles. He looked around. He’d fallen over a shovel.

The cutting edge had fresh soil on it, and there was more loose dirt on the ground, but where had it come from? Rex couldn’t see any signs of digging.

He followed the path the figure had taken, the footsteps easy to see in the dewy grass. A couple dozen feet from the shovel, a scrap of paper fluttered, caught against a bouquet of dying memorial flowers.

Rex picked up the dirt-smudged paper and examined it. It showed small plots with numbers and names carefully assigned to some of them. He recognized many of the names.

He’d see them right here in the cemetery on the older markers.


COMING NEXT SUNDAY: What will Rex discover next? Check back Sunday, Sept. 26, when Rick Anderson continues our story.

Melody Hitchner moved to Bellingham from beautiful and sunny Okanogan to attend Western Washington University in 1999. She liked the water, mountains and most of the people so much that she decided to stay. She has been at The Herald since 2002 working in the real estate advertising, customer service and marketing departments. She lives in Lynden with her cat, Fitzwilliam Kitty.