Tabbi Ireland and Sheri Wade were looking for a space, a building, that the local cheerleading squad they coached could use as a practice facility. The building needn't be fancy or, for that matter, even uncluttered. They were willing to give the space a hard cleaning when the right place in Houston was found.
Houston, Mo., was a small town, yet there were places for rent. The buildings were old and over the many years of their existence, those decades prior to June of 2014, each had been home to a variety of stores and businesses. Still, neither the former owners' names nor the histories of the structures were that important to the two coaches. The space just had to strike a chord with them and, of course, the rent needed to be reasonable, very reasonable.
Finally, they came to learn of a place, an old building near Forbe's Drugstore at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Pine Street. Both Tabbi and Sheri had seen the building a hundred times or more but neither had paid much attention to it. It was worth a look, so the two made an appointment to examine the interior of the place.
At first glance, the two prospective tenants were pleased as the interior of the building seemed roomy enough. Both Tabbi and Sheri agreed that there was ample room for the practice sessions, and then some. There were many items to be disposed of, as the previous tenant, whoever that was, left behind a lot of yet unidentified articles.
As the two walked through the space, they talked about their plans to clean and do some remodeling. Then, among all that clutter, something very odd caught their attention. There, over there, was a large black wooden box. To each, and without comparing thoughts, the item somewhat resembled a coffin. How odd they thought the look of the box and it certainly called for a closer inspection. With some apprehension, the lid was slowly and carefully opened and "land o' Goshen" there was the stuff that nightmares are made of, a collection of bones; a collection that looked to be a human skeleton.
Well, the "walk-thru" came to an abrupt end and the two girls placed a call to the local police department and reported their gruesome discovery. It wasn't long before Police Chief Joe Kirkman walked through the doorway, accompanied by Texas County Coroner, Tom Whittaker. He asked a few routine questions before viewing the skeletal remains.
Kirkman agreed with the assessment that the bones appeared to be those of a human skeleton and suggested that a further examination of the building's interior take place. It wasn't long before a second box of what appeared to be human bones, and then a third was found. After some time, both Kirkman and Whittaker declared that there were no more unexplained boxes of bones. That observation brought at least some relief to all concerned.
Kirkman, and rightly so, declared that this matter required further investigation. The skeletal remains needed to be examined by Whittaker and a determination, if possible, needed to be made as to the identities and causes of death.
Confident that no more skeletons remained within the building, Kirkman began to look for evidence, clues if you will, which might aid in his investigation into the matter at hand. How did those bones come to be there and for what purpose?
Just above the entry door were three interlocking rings with the then faded white letters, IOOF. Kirkman found elaborate robes and accounting ledger books with the words "IOOF Working Rituals" stamped on the covers.
An old and non-functioning 1920's era security system with buzzers was discovered and it was noted that all the doors had peepholes. It was apparent that whatever took place there was meant to be a secret and only select persons were admitted.
Then, and with the unanticipated yet very timely assistance of Tabbi Ireland, a most important clue was found. Hanging on a wall was what appeared to be a charter for some sort of organization. As Ireland and Kirkman silently read the names, a listing of prominent Texas County gentlemen, one name jumped out at Tabbi. It was the name of her grandfather, W.T. "Ted" Sheets. That bit of information gave Kirkman a place to start his investigation.
There were far too many unanswered questions to suit Kirkman, but he was certain of one thing: he would bet his badge that Mr. Sheets could provide the answers to at least some of those questions.
A visit was paid to Sheets, then in his 90th year of life. Kirkman began by asking the obvious. "What in the world kind of organization used the then-vacant building?" Sheets readily gave the answer to the question; "The I.O.O.F." The puzzled look on Kirkman's face led Mr. Sheets to come to the conclusion that his answer had not been sufficient. "You know, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows."
With nary another question asked, Mr. Sheets began to speak. He recalled that he relished his association with the Odd Fellows and stated that he was a member of the organization in the '40s and '50s. He said that the order was a benevolent organization and he recalled the time that he and several other members chopped a year's supply of wood for an ill member.
Kirkman wanted to get to the point and asked about the bones. Maybe it was his advanced age and failing memory but Sheets couldn't recall ever seeing the bones. He said the lodge fell on hard times as new members became difficult to recruit and the local order eventually ceased to exist.
The time spent with Mr. Sheets was well spent but there were those still yet unanswered questions about those bones. An internet search pointed Kirkman in a direction that would surely provide an answer to that yet unsolved mystery. Kirkman would contact a gentleman by the name of Higgins, Missouri's I.O.O.F. Grand Secretary.
Higgins proved to be a treasure trove of information. The I.O.O.F. had its founding roots in England. The first lodge in America was founded in Baltimore, Md., in the year 1819. The organization was to be and remained a charitable organization. Over the years it had donated millions of dollars to the Arthritis Foundation as well as other well-deserving organizations.
Higgins acknowledged that the group had always been one which valued secrecy but he would gladly discuss the bones discovered in Houston. He stated that the bones were used in rituals and most were replicas, imitations if you will. He did however acknowledge that some were actual human skeletal remains purchased from medical supply companies. The bones emphasized the mortality of members and all people.
Texas County Coroner Tom Whittaker examined the remains and determined that two were in fact phonies. One, however, was genuine. Those bones were sent to Southwest Missouri State University Professor of Sociology Suzanne Walker. After careful examination and much discussion, it was determined that the bones were the remains of an elderly man who died of natural causes.
Case closed as far as Kirkman was concerned. He passed the results of the investigation along to Ireland and Wade who were relieved that there was no indication of foul play.
The building did become the new site for the cheerleaders and it fit their needs perfectly. What happened to the bones you might ask? Well, they were moved to a back room but were not forgotten. Twelve-year-old Sable Bell asked to see the bones and, obligingly, she, Sarah, Jamie and other members of the squad were given an impromptu viewing. Sarah and Jamie were so captivated by the remains that they asked if their mother could see them. "Why not," was the answer?
When I think of forsaken skeletons resting inside old vacated buildings, one thought comes to mind, "how very odd."
Stan Fine is a retired police officer and Verizon Security Department investigator who, after retiring in 2006, moved from Tampa, Fla., to Noel. Stan's connection to Noel can be traced back to his grandparents who lived most of their lives there. Stan began writing after the passing of his wife Robin in 2013. Opinions expressed are those of the author.