RUSSELLVILLE — State and local authorities worked throughout the day Thursday, using small garden spades to painstakingly dig in an area as they searched for the possible remains of an infant.
Russellville Police Chief Chris Hargett said teams will return to the residence on Wilson Avenue today to look for any evidence supporting a tip that a baby may have been buried in the yard.
“So far, we have not found anything, but we are not through looking at this point,” Hargett said.
The search is in a 6-by-6-foot area where, Hargett said, four dogs trained to detect the scent of human remains indicated something was possibly there. “We have to check it out,” Hargett said.
He said his office received information from the state fire marshal’s office that a baby was born to a woman who lived at the residence, but the baby lived only a few hours.
“The information was that the baby was buried under a burn pile in the yard,” Hargett said. “Our investigators got a search warrant to go to the residence, found the burn pile and there was an indention in the dirt under the pile that could be a grave.”
He said the dogs, a part of the HEMSI unit from Huntsville, were called in Wednesday night.
“So today, we started digging, removing the soil from that area,” Hargett said Thursday. Investigators said they are trying to determine the identity of mother or the father of the child, or if anyone knows anything about a child being born or dying at the house.
“No one knows who the baby’s mother could be,” Hargett said.
Authorities said the last known resident was Mark Austin Windham, 57, who died Jan. 4.
Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing said Windham was a registered sex offender.
“He had lived there for years,” Rushing said. “His parents are dead, and he lived there for a while with them before they died.”
Rushing said there also are reports of several women who lived at the residence off and on.
“So, it looks like the list of potential moms is long,” Rushing said.
Hargett said it’s believed the child was born sometime since 2009. He declined to elaborate on how investigators made that determination.
“The child could have been born anywhere from a few weeks ago to 2009,” he said.
James Whitfield, who lives across the street, said he initially thought the commotion at the house Thursday was related to Windham’s death in early January.
“They found the boy dead and everyone said he committed suicide,” Whitfield said. “I thought they might be out here looking for evidence. I had no idea they were looking for a child’s body.”
He said he talked to Windham on occasions and was aware he was a convicted sex offender.
“He told me it was about an underage girl in Florida,” Whitfield said, adding he never saw children at the residence.
“There were some seedy characters up there all the time, including one guy I knew who is a drug user,” he said.
“They would party up there and it got a little loud sometimes, and he would yell at his dog a lot. Some people around here were uneasy because he was registered, but he never bothered me. I never had any problems with them.”
He said he’s unaware of anyone living there since Windham died.
Hargett said if anything is found during the search, it will be sent to the Alabama Department of Forensics for testing.
Rushing said it will depend on what the lab could determine was the cause of death as to whether charges could be filed.
“We don’t know if anything is there or not, but with all four dogs hitting on the same location, makes us believe there could be something there,” Hargett said. “We may not find anything, but we have to look.”
Tom Smith can be reached at 256-740-5757 or tom.smith@TimesDaily.com.