A human skull was found in the woods between two Diamondhead homes on Friday, leading to more remains, officials say, which may be those of a man who disappeared more than 11 years ago.
Hancock County Sheriff Ricky Adam said an adjoining property owner discovered the skull Friday morning while walking through a lightly wooded path about 200 feet from the roadway on Apua Street off Kapalama Drive.
HCSO investigators arrived at the scene and secured a small area with yellow crime scene tape, Adam said. They then contacted the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations, which sent members of its forensics crime scene team down to assist.
Several bones and what are believed to be the man’s personal belongings were found lying on the ground just below a small pile of leaves and dirt. Among the personal belongings were a hat, a pair of grey tennis shoes and a silver wrist watch. The neighbor had also given authorities a wallet he had found near the skull.
“The wallet was drenched,” said Hancock County Coroner Jim Faulk. “It was half dirt and half wallet. It was awful. I slowly opened it and ripped the stitches at the seam where it preserved all of the information. I dried and cleaned off two plastic pieces and a name was on both!”
One of the cards happened to be a Sam’s Club Card, Faulk said, which was dated back to 2007.
”It even had a photo,” Faulk said.
Officials said the identification cards in the wallet gave investigators a pretty big clue as to who the body may have been. All of the items found also matched those in the description of a man who was reported missing back in May 2008.
On May 18, 2008, 86-year-old Ward Buel of Diamondhead was reported missing. Buel suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and disappeared from his home one weekend, never to be seen again.
Search-and-rescue teams scoured the neighborhood near Buel’s home on Linohau Way at the time. They even went door to door in the residential areas of Diamondhead, handing out fliers. All Terrain Vehicles and cadaver dogs were used to comb fields and wooded areas, even in some areas along Interstate 10, but to no avail.
For some time, hope that Buel was alive remained. Officials followed numerous reports from people who had seen men matching his description. Buel’s name was entered into a national database for missing persons.
As it turns out, Buel lived just a short distance away from where the remains were discovered.
About 10 acres of land which include a large, perfectly manicured field, a small farmhouse, and a pond sat just a couple of feet away from where the remains were found. Although the property owner said he had never seen the remains nor could he recall hearing about a man who had gone missing nearby, he did remember an incident that occurred on his property many years ago, likely around the time Buel had disappeared.
The land owner said he noticed an older gentlemen had wandered onto his property, so he asked the man if he needed any help. He said the man mentioned having Alzheimer’s disease and said he had gotten lost while taking his daily walk. He said the gentleman explained that he lived just around the corner and that if he could point him in the direction of the main road, he could find his way home.
Faulk said he believes it was Buel the man encountered.
“If it was Buel, it may have been the last time he was seen alive. He may have just walked over here to take a break and sit in the shade and then died, most likely naturally.”
On Saturday, Faulk and Deputy Coroner Melissa Taillon returned to the scene to continue their search, hoping to find anything that would help lead to a scientific identification.
“I want to find every single bone and fragment that I can possibly find,” Faulk said, "but just about everything has disintegrated from being in dirt, leaves, and weather for so long. I’m hoping we have just one piece that has preserved it’s DNA.”
Adam said the bones are going to be sent off for a DNA analysis to confirm an identity.
“We want to make sure it is who we think it is,” Adam said.