Dennis Heffington has been working as an exterminator for 20 years and has worked in--and under--a variety of older houses and buildings, but he wasn't prepared for what he discovered under the Old Blanco County Courthouse on Monday, September 24.
Heffington, an exterminator with Oasis Pest Control and Lawn Care and also a bail-bondsman with AZ Bail Bonds in Marble Falls, was hired by the Old Blanco County Courthouse Preservation Society (OBCCPS) to spray for termites. One step in the process was to clean out the crawl space under the courthouse, removing wood (food for the termites) and debris, as well as mapping the area. Heffington removed a wheelbarrow load of materials, including old nails and bottles, from the rarely-used and cramped, 14-inch high space below the floorboards.
The only time anyone enters the crawlspace, which is accessible through entryways underneath the stairways, is to run telephone lines and other conduit. The space under the eastern stairs was updated and walled-off through the years, Heffington reported, but the western side looks like an untouched historical site.
After spending a few hours collecting debris on Monday, Heffington laid out his findings on the courthouse's glass countertop. In with a piece of a medicine bottle, an old straw broom, and various chunks of the courthouse's original wood, were what looked to be bones.
"I put the bones together and thought, 'I better get the police,'" recalled the exterminator.
Three sections of vertebrae were discovered near the center of the courthouse, under six to eight inches of dirt.
Chief of Police Ed Sonier contacted Dr. David Behrends with the Blanco Veterinary Clinic, who said, from the best he could tell, that these bones hadn't come from an animal.
On Tuesday morning, September 25, Assistant Chief of Police Gary Pittman donned a filter respirator and joined Dennis Heffington beneath the courthouse floor to search for more bones.
Emerging dusty and sweaty, Pittman laid out the newly discovered items, including a bone about four inches long and an old shoe that had been found in the same area as the previous day's finding. Blocks of burned wood, possibly from a campfire, was also recovered. The floorboards above the area had not been charred, however, reported Heffington.
"This has been the only job that creeped me out," Heffington said.
The investigation will continue and the bones will probably be sent off to the Texas Department of Public Safety crime lab in Austin, said Chief Sonier. Police are currently unsure whether the bones are human or animal.
The Old Blanco County Courthouse was constructed in 1885 and served for only five years as the county's courthouse before the county seat was moved to Johnson City. Blanco National Bank began operations in the building in 1906; the vaults from the bank are still accessible through the first-floor offices, which were pointed out by Bob Boydston, who was representing the OBCCPS during Tuesday's investigation. Through the years, the courthouse served the community as many things, including a school, a hospital from 1937 through 1964, and a BBQ restaurant.
Heffington reports that there are passageways and cramped rooms, some about three feet high, under the building that are not on the official plans.
Now, all the OBCCPS can do is wait to see the outcome of the investigation.