MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — It’s not easy to leave no stone unturned at a 52-year-old crime scene.
Not when investigators have to dig mostly by hand, so as not to disturb any evidence that might still be hiding in the ground.
Armed with garden trowels and toothbrushes, West Virginia State Police forensic investigators and others have done just that in recent weeks in a wooded, rural tract near Morgantown.
It’s a place that has chilled and captivated generations of college town residents. This is where the decomposed and decapitated bodies of Karen Ferrell and Mared Malarik were found in 1970.
WVU freshmen and friends were spied getting into a cream-colored sedan on a cold night in Morgantown four months prior. They were hitchhiking back to their dorm after a movie in town.
A side note to the narrative is equally poignant and chilling: the heads of the victims have yet to be located after all these years.
This is why the meticulous work in an archaeological style began in mid-May.
Albert “Rod” Everly, a retired entrepreneur and vocational teacher, was part of the National Guard unit that discovered the bodies that April afternoon 52 years ago.
A recent book and podcast about the murders piqued his interest – a series of anonymous letters believed to have been written by the perpetrator, in particular.
He scoured the site according to the author’s directions, and in mid-May six cadaver dogs, yelping and furiously wagging their tails, went to the two areas where the writer said the final evidence could be found.
As recently as last Monday, two other groups of dogs – all dogs working separately from each other – all had the same reaction, to varying degrees, in the aforementioned areas.
“That’s what keeps me going,” he said. “The dogs all give off the same smell in the same two places.”
Everly briefly employed a backhoe and a professional operator to dig a few more feet at both sites to widen the field of investigation.
In the meantime, high-tech help is on the way.
Michael Kief, who does forensic investigations with the West Virginia State Police, said the agency was purchasing a ground-penetrating radar unit this month to work on such cases.
“It’s basically an X-ray machine,” said Kief, who recently retired as a state police lieutenant and has worked on several cold cases during his career.
The technology uses radio waves to detect anomalies in the ground and strata, such as sunken, sunken areas where bodies – or body parts – might be buried, he said.
“We can get a 3D image of an area,” he said. “We can grill anything.”
Kief said the agency is finalizing the documents for the purchase this month. It works, tech could be used in this expanse near Morgantown housing the remains of two snatched lives.
It’s really about closure, both and Everly said, if a final discovery could be made.
Steve McGuffin agrees. Her aunt and uncle were Richard and Bess Ferrell, the adoptive parents of Karen Ferrell.
He was 2 years old when his cousin and her friend were killed. Since the family is close, he probably met Karen Ferrell when he was a kid – he just doesn’t remember, he said.
What he remembers, he said, is the character of two people who simply wanted each other to carry on, in the face of terrible loss.
Two people who bought groceries and Christmas gifts for neighbors in need, sometimes anonymously.
“They lost everything but they didn’t turn in on themselves,” he said of the couple.
“Instead, they did it for others.”