more clues appearing
new areas to research
what will be revealed
“If it’s not a dime, what is it?” Sandberg asks.
“A steel penny,” Meghan replies, handing him the coin. “They were only made for a year.”
“One year? When? Why?”
“1943. The mint discontinued them when people confused them with dimes and vending machines treated them like slugs.”
“Why make them at all?”
“The government needed copper for the war effort. And pennies used a lot of copper. So they tried steel. But the problems outweighed the benefits.”
“So we’ve got one penny from 1943 and another from the ’50s at latest. That doesn’t sound recent.”
“I don’t think it is,” Meghan says.
“So this boy died in the 1940s?”
Meghan hesitates. “Probably, but I would need more information. If the wheat penny’s from the ’50s, that would bring his death closer. Whatever the latest date is on the coins is the earliest he could’ve died. For now, we know it’s 1943 or later. It won’t take me long to finish up and see if there are other artifacts with him.”
By early afternoon, Meghan has completed the excavation, and the bones lie pedestaled on the subsoil. Other than the decaying denim and metal buttons and rivets from his jeans, there’s no evidence of clothing. And the coins are the only other artifacts in the burial pit. There’s nothing to identify him—no inscribed watch or paper documents like a driver’s license. He’s nameless and alone.
She stands to stretch and to grab a water bottle and small magnifying glass before sitting down again with the coins. Taking a bandana from her pocket, she splashes water over the dime and wheat penny and gently wipes the mud away. She peers through the loupe and can just make out the dates.
“The other penny is from 1940 and the dime from 1939. Looks like 1943 is the earliest the boy could have died. Nothing says it wasn’t a few years later, though. Maybe he just didn’t have anything from the current year.”
Meghan sets down the coins and looks up at Sandberg. “Do you investigate murders from the ’40s? Or are they too old?”
Sandberg takes off his jacket and sits next to Meghan. The afternoon sun is warm enough to make a pleasant day. “If he died in 1943, that’s nearly seventy years ago. He’d be in his eighties today. If he was murdered, the killer’s probably dead, too. But murder cases can always be reopened when there’s new evidence. I’ll check the old missing persons records for the area. That long ago, I don’t think anyone would transport a body too far to dump it.”
“I hope you’ll find someone who matches,” Meghan says softly.
“Are you all right with this? You don’t normally deal with anything this recent.”
“It’s just hard to understand how someone could kill a boy and bury his body in the middle of nowhere. Why did they do it? What happened?”
“Maybe it’s not murder.”
Meghan shakes her head. “People in the 1940s wouldn’t just bury a boy in a hole in the ground in the middle of nowhere. He’d be in a cemetery in a coffin, even if it was a simple pine box. I know I’m no skeletal expert, but I’d bet his skull didn’t crack that badly in an accident.”
She wipes her face with a dry corner of the bandana, hoping Sandberg doesn’t notice the tears welling in her eyes. “I have a ten-year-old boy,” she says and points to the skeleton. “This is my worst nightmare.”
“Mine, too,” Sandberg says. “My boy is twelve and my daughter, ten.”
“Is it hard for you? Cases with children?”
“Yeah. You have to disconnect your personal life from your work life. Otherwise, you go crazy.”
“I couldn’t do it,” Meghan says. “I’d always see John, even if I knew he was safe at home.”
“Then you made the right career choice.”
Sandberg stands up. “I promise. I’ll check the missing persons files. But let’s get this boy out of the middle of nowhere. When can your physical anthropologist look at him and tell us what happened?”
“I emailed her last night. She’ll come by on Monday after I’ve cleaned up the bones.”
“Right. How about I drive up and meet you that afternoon?”
“We’ll be ready,” Meghan says, shoving her primeval fears back to the depths of her mind. “Let me show you how we pack up the bones.”
You know the drill—more next Tuesday!
- Rare 1943 Penny Sells For $1 Million (news92fm.com)