When James Baysinger pulled the partially buried trash bag out of the ground, tore into it and found it contained bones, he said there was one word that came to mind: “Nancy.”
He carefully gathered the small pieces of bone, saying later that he took some time to determine whether they were only sticks. Sticks, when coated in dried mud, he thought, can look deceptively like a bit of skeleton.
He gathered the bits of bone into the bag, and started trudging out of the woods, up the embankment and to a nearby road where Dr. Maurice Godwin and a couple other members of his crew waited.
It took Godwin no time at all to identify who the bones belonged to: a deer.
“Your heart drops,” Baysinger said, when asked how he was feeling.
Baysinger is the creator and host of the podcast “Hide and Seek” – a true crime series analyzing the disappearance of Tenino woman Nancy Moyer, who was last seen March 6, 2009 when she was 36.
Since the podcast’s launch earlier this month, Baysinger, a Kennewick resident, has been conducting most of his research and interviews from a distance. But he and his crew traveled to Tenino last weekend to do some in-person interviews and meet locals with tidbits to share.
Baysinger told The Chronicle he had received a couple off-the-record tips about places a body might be hidden. They canvassed those spots and visited the house where Moyer was living when she went missing. Baysinger said they contacted the residents to see if they could record some content in the house and take pictures.
Sam Moyer, one of Moyer’s daughters, was 9 when her mother went missing. She agreed to an interview for the podcast, and went to the house with the crew.
“It’s been really surreal,” she said of her experience. “It’s been so long since I’ve been here.”
Outside the house, videographer Edward Lee and photographer (and Baysinger’s sister) Terra Nyce talked about Moyer’s disappearance, the theories they’ve heard, and their personal thoughts on what happened.
Moyer’s disappearance has been ruled a no-body homicide as law enforcement officers have said they are confident that she’s dead. On March 8, 2009, her husband reported that he found the front door of her home open. Her car was still parked in the driveway and her purse was still in the house.
The case captured the attention of locals and beyond – it was featured on the Investigation Discovery Channel last year. But there has been no closure for Moyer’s family and friends.
Bev Poston, who worked with Moyer, was instrumental in the search parties that canvassed the area after Moyer’s disappearance. She also visited Moyer’s house with Kim Collins to talk with the “Hide and Seek” crew.
Poston recalled how the search parties would meet at the market in town, and decide where to go. She researched searching techniques extensively, she said.
“Nothing panned out, but, I thought, at least I can live with myself,” Poston said.
The process was strenuous and tough, given the rough terrain. Poston consulted a forensic anthropologist about what state the body would be in.
“So many people asked me, ‘How can you do this week after week?’ and I thought, ‘How can you not?’” she said.
Acting on an off-the-record tip, the podcast crew, Poston and Collins drove to a remote wooded area where a body may be hidden. Poston said the body would likely be scattered at this point.
The property owner drove by as the caravan of vehicles pulled over to the side of the winding, gravel road. He gave them permission to walk through the woods.
That’s where Baysinger happened upon the trash bag containing deer bones. A heap of other bags were piled up next to a stream. Just off to the side, though, there was another bag that was tied differently. It was mostly buried, with a small part showing through the dirt.
To find out the bones inside belonged to a deer was a disappointment, he said.
After the crew had canvassed a part of the woods, Poston and Collins parted ways with Baysinger’s group.
“More than anything, I just wanted her to be found,” said Poston, wishing them luck and saying goodbye.
As Tenino residents have found out about the project, the response has been positive, Baysinger said. People have reached out to talk about things they’ve heard about Nancy’s case.
Later, sitting at a table at Scotty B’s for a lunch with the crew, Godwin said these cases become a burden to bear. It’s quite emotional, he said.
Godwin has decades of experience as a criminal forensic investigator. He has worked as a profiler in the Washington, D.C,. sniper case and the Casey Anthony case. His work with the acclaimed podcast “Up and Vanished” led to charges being filed in a cold-case homicide.
He flew out to Tenino from North Carolina after Baysinger reached out to him several months ago. Moyer’s case was right in his wheelhouse, he said.
“It has a lot of twists and turns,” he said.
He’s confident untapped answers lay in Moyer’s case file, and fresh eyes can find them. “But you gotta shake some trees in this town,” he said.
Tenino Mayor Wayne Fournier and former Tenino police officer – and current Centralia officer – Adam Haggerty joined the table at Scotty B’s. They were there to talk about Bernard Howell.
Howell was convicted of killing 60-year-old Vanda Boone by slitting her throat on the Yelm-Tenino Trail in 2010. With that murder coming about a year after Moyer’s disappearance, Howell naturally became a person of interest in the earlier case. Some authorities with the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office have since discarded the idea.
Haggerty, Fournier and the “Hide and Seek” crew drove to the trail, and talked about their experience with the Howell case. Haggerty assisted in pulling Howell over after someone reported Howell had asked him to help load a body in his truck. Fournier was with the fire department at the time, and responded to the scene when the body was discovered.
Haggerty said Howell had specks on his face that he suspects were blood. The body was shoved head first, naked, into a sleeping bag crammed in the cab of the truck.
As Howell was cuffed and sitting on the sidewalk, Haggerty said he had a grin on his face and a “1,000-yard stare.”
“I got the feeling that he was enjoying it,” Fournier said.
Haggerty said Howell, who was living with his dad at the time, had trenched beneath the family house, making a space deep enough to stand up in. There were candles in the trench, he said.
Fournier said there were rumors that Moyer’s body was hidden beneath that house, but police got a search warrant and checked it out. There wasn’t a body.
“I think it’s great that they’re putting so much effort into this, and putting some extra eyes so many years later, trying to put some closure to the case,” Fournier said.
“Hide and Seek” is a weekly podcast. You can find it on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Soundcloud, Tunein, Stitcher and Podbean.