Poetic Archaeology A.9 — Meghan’s Brush With Forensic Archaeology

with a whirl and click

images glide by with clues

hidden in plain sight

(Catch up with Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, and Part 8)

For the second day, Meghan Bode is at the state archives, looking for clues to the murdered boy’s identity. Luckily, her class lectures for next week are finished. She rubs her eyes and picks up her glasses. Nothing is worse than sitting at a microfilm reader for hours, straining to read faded and blurry newspapers. But she forgets her discomfort when she sees the short story from June 24, 1944.

Local Boy Runs Off to Join Army

Ray Compton has gone and done it. For months friends and family have heard his talk about joining the Army. But missing the landing at Normandy must have been too much for him. Two days after his seventeenth birthday, Ray slipped away from home during the night without a word. His mother, stepfather, and younger brother woke to find him gone.

“Maybe he’ll learn how to work,” his stepfather, Sam Compton said. “The boy’s nothing but a dreamer. He was no good at nothing except baseball. The only thing a southpaw’s good for. And leaving his poor mother like that. We’ll see what the Army teaches him.”

Friends, teachers, and his brother, Chuck, all hope to hear news of Ray’s adventures soon.

That’s it. A small bit of local news for the weekly paper. A boy runs away to join the Army. A left-handed, seventeen-year-old boy from the right time period and place to match the skeleton from the park.

Meghan steps outside to make a call. “Detective Sandberg? I think I found him.”


Two hours later, she pulls into the parking lot of Tom Sandberg’s police station. He greets her at the front door.

“Nice work, Dr. Bode,” Sandberg says, leading her to his desk. “I checked the old files again for any cases with the Compton family. And look what I found.”

Sandberg pulls a brown accordion folder from a drawer. It’s easily six inches thick, stuffed with manila files.

“What’s in them?” Meghan asks.

“A long list of complaints about one Sam Compton. Disturbing the peace. Drunken fights. A lot of drunken fights. And a report from one of Ray’s teachers who was sure Sam had beaten him up one day. Ray’s six-year-old brother said he saw it. But neither Ray or his mother would admit it. The officer had a note in the file that they looked too scared to say anything.”

Meghan wipes a hand over her face. “Sorry, my eyes are sore. Wasn’t anyone suspicious about Ray running away?”

Sandberg hands her a tissue. “Probably. But if Ray and his mother were scared of Sam Compton, others were, too. Just like you suggested in your lab. The files show he was a violent man.”

“I know times were different. But I can’t understand why women marry men like that.”

“She was a young woman, I’d guess, with two young children. It might have been the only way to keep them with her. The courts didn’t look kindly on single mothers back then, even if they were widowed and not divorced.”

Meghan shakes her head. “Until the husband kills one of them. Do you know what happened to the family?”

“The files say they moved away in 1945. Do you think we can get DNA from the skeleton?”

“It’s possible. The bones are in good shape. Teeth are probably our best chance. Why?”

“Because I checked our databases for Chuck Compton, and he’s still alive in West Virginia. I talked with him just before you got here. He’ll do anything that’s needed if there’s a chance we’ve found his brother.”

I’ve scheduled this for posting on Sunday evening. Fingers crossed that I can see your comments when this goes live! If I can’t, I’ll be back as soon as the power is.

56 thoughts on “Poetic Archaeology A.9 — Meghan’s Brush With Forensic Archaeology

    • Thanks, Clowie. 🙂 We are past the worst of it and didn’t lose power. Others are nowhere near as fortunate, though. This is a monster storm. Meteorologists say there hasn’t been one like it since 1888!


  1. Good suspense, here, JM. Awesome job of planting questions needing answeres, too. Hope you are safe from the hurricane.


    • Thanks, Christie! I felt rushed with this installment because I wanted to schedule it in advance of Sandy. So it had even less revisioning and editing than normal. I think we’ll be okay, although it’s still raining. I can’t rule out the possibility of water-saturated trees still falling on power lines and taking us out….


      • Aw, I hope everything goes okay during the storm and that the storm ends soon.

        *acknowledges I wrote “answeres” instead of answers in the previous post and slaps forehead. “D’oh!” Obviously morning caffeine has not kicked in yet. Lol! 😉


  2. Bravo Meghan! And Officer Sandberg, he was pretty swift assessing the Compton file, and finding ‘young’ Chuck too! DNA, eh? Things sure are motoring along now, JM 🙂

    I wonder how things are with you – power, flood surge, wind … fingers crossed we’ll hear from you soon that all’s well 🙂


    • Sandberg is a good detective. 🙂 Once he had a lead, he ran with it.

      We were spared the worst of the storm. Our sustained winds never topped 30 mph, although we had some strong gusts. And for all our complaining about the power company, the outages in our area could have been much worse. There are plenty of people without power. But not as many locally as in past storms. Closer to the coast and on the Eastern Shore (across Chesapeake Bay from “the mainland”), it’s a different story. Blizzards are now a factor in the Appalachians. It’s an unbelievable storm, which has no modern counterpart in the US. Apparently the closest recorded was back in 1888!


      • We’re all been glued to the news channels watching Super Storm Sandy, Typhoon Son Tinh, and Cyclone Nelum which skirted northern Sri Lanka but is giving Madhu a hair-raising time as it lashes Chennai on its way to the Andhara coast.

        Glad all was well with you, JM.


    • Thanks, Char. 🙂 I think it’ll be interesting to hear what Chuck has to say about the past. In archaeology, we rarely get to talk with people who were part of our “work.” This is a rare exception for me and Meghan. 😉


  3. Apologies if you’ve already mentioned this somewhere, but I’m curious as to whether you are pantsing this story week by week, or whether it is all planned out? Either way, it’s working!

    Glad the worst of the storm has passed you, and that it wasn’t too bad for you.


    • Thanks, Vanessa! I am indeed pantsing it every week. After the first few installments, I knew it would be a somewhat recent case, but I still didn’t have the details. And I still don’t for next week. I know basically what will happen, but Meghan and Sandberg give me the full picture only as we write. That is NOT what I intended to do. It just happened that way. 🙂

      The worst was really on our Eastern Shore and up into New Jersey and New York/Connecticut. I’m not sure how bad it was up LimebirdKate’s way…. Hopefully not too bad!


  4. Glad you are able to read and reply to comments, JM. Must mean Sandy wasn’t too harsh with you. 🙂 I like that you are tying this up with some closure, even though it is a tragic case. The fact Meghan and Sandberg will be able to talk to Chuck and let him know what happened to his brother is a great way to end your story.

    I think Meghan and Sandberg need to work together more often. This is reminding me a little of the TV show, Bones. Have you ever watched it? Anyway, I think that you could come up with a neat collection of short stories with Meghan and Sandberg as protags.


    • Hmm, that’s an interesting idea about putting together a short story collection for these two. Maybe I could e-publish that myself as an introduction to my writing while I work on the larger novels…. I’ll have to give that some serious thought!

      I haven’t seen Bones, although at times I’ve thought I should. I try to keep the TV watching down and focus on writing, but sometimes I think I force myself to write/edit/revise when my brain could really use a break. I’m thinking my husband and I are the only ones who don’t use Netflix. 😉

      We lucked out with Sandy. Closer to the coast, they really got hit hard with those record storm surges. The historic pier in Ocean City is just about gone…. Looking at the size of this monster on the radar maps is just amazing. All the snow in the Appalachians, and the high winds are out to Wisconsin and Illinois. Did you get much of it?


      • All bark and no bite, for us. We didn’t even lose power. I’m really surprised, actually. We live on the outskirts of a big town (some residents call it a city, but they’re delusional), and our little backwoods area is the last on the list of priorities. It isn’t unusual for us to be the first ones who lose power and the last ones who get it restored.

        I was sorry to hear about the pier. It’s always the landmarks that get hit the hardest, it seems.

        I think epublishing a short story collection is a sweet idea, actually. And a perfect way to get your name and your writing out there as an introduction to your novels. Now, it’s just a matter of finding enough stories to make into a collection. No small task!


        • When it comes to storms, I’m all for them failing to meet predicted high expectations. I’d rather they arrive as a dud. But for a lot of folks, Sandy was no dud. I’m glad you escaped the worst, too.

          Yes, thinking up a few more stories is not an easy task. And I’m supposed to be working on Death Out of Time revisions. 😉 We’ll see if Meghan and Sandberg start nudging me with more ideas!


    • So glad to see you back commenting! 🙂 I’ve never seen anything like this storm. I heard there hasn’t been anything like it since 1888. And I believe that. I’m really glad we didn’t get hit as hard as we could have!


  5. So Chuck is still alive…

    I like the Haiku at the beginning, it gives a nice little intro. A sort of, where were we, oh here, type thing.

    You should add an extra menu to your blog with links to the various pieces of this story.


    • Yes, Chuck is up there in years, but he’s still alive. And he’d like closure. I’m sure he’ll have some helpful information. 😉 Sometimes the haiku have come first and other times after the installment. But I hope they’ve reflected the day’s entry.

      I plan to add another page with links to all parts when the story is done. And when I can think of a good title for the tab. 🙂


  6. This is both sad, that it looks like it was violence within a family, and kind of cool that the younger brother is still alive and can get some questions answered. Nice turn to it. And a great suggestion to do more stories. Doing them on the blog in installments really makes people want to come and read them – at least it’s doing that for me.

    Interesting also to get the storm news from folks over there on the other side of the country. I’m in California but have relatives living in New York City, so I’m interested in that too.


    • I have to say, it’s not a story I ever thought I’d write. But the Muse likes to surprise me. I hope there are more Meghan mysteries I can write, and, as suggested, perhaps publish as a compilation. But I may need a break from them to regroup once this one is done. Or Meghan may suggest another idea tomorrow. We’ll have to wait and see. 😉

      New York was hit hard, so I hope your relatives are doing okay. We were very lucky in the DC area and suburbs.


  7. I liked the fact that Sandberg tracked Chuck down right away. It shows what a good team they are, sharing information and acting on it quickly. You said you felt rushed writing this part,, but it didn’t feel that way as a reader. It seems that you are very comfortable with these characters! Keep it coming. 🙂


    • I’m glad to hear it didn’t sound rushed or forced. Isn’t is interesting how characters can just sneak up on you? When Meghan first appeared, I thought she was simply a way for me to talk about an archaeologist. And now, she’s turned into such a full character and brought Sandberg into the mix, too. Sneaky girl! 🙂


  8. The story gets better and better. You’re doing a lovely job building suspense and characters. I’m looking forward to reading more, and I’m glad to read in the comments that you and yours survived the hurricane.


    • Thank you so much. 🙂 I’ve enjoyed writing this, and I think Meghan will have more stories to share down the line. We might need a short break when this one wraps up, but I enjoy writing about her. We were very lucky to miss the brunt of this storm. The devastation on our Eastern Shore and up into New York and New Jersey is unbelievable. I hope the “silent” bloggers are doing okay where they are.


  9. Pingback: I Am A Facebook Ogre « The Write Transition

    • Ah, just what a writer loves to hear! 🙂 I’m working on getting those types of chapter and section endings into my novels. If I succeed, maybe readers will keep saying, “just one more chapter” before going to bed. 🙂


  10. Glad you’re okay, JM.
    I’m hooked. As soon as I saw you’d posted the next installment, I clicked on it right away. I agree with Carol about how it’s both sad and hopeful at the same time. Incredible how much emotion (I felt it) comes out with such short bits–well done.


    • Thanks, Jagoda. 🙂 I’m doing my job as a writer if readers like you are having an emotional reaction to the story and caring what happens to the characters. I think next week’s installment will be a tough one to write and for some of the characters to deal with. At least, that’s the way I think it should be. Meghan and Sandberg are still passing along some of the plot points for the day….


  11. Pingback: Poetic Archaeology A.10 — Meghan’s Brush With Forensic Archaeology « jmmcdowell

  12. I’ve been meaning to catch up with this since Sandy! 🙂 You must have read microfilm from that time period because that newspaper story sounds exactly like the ones from that time period. (I had to read them a long time ago for a “50 Years Ago Today” section in the newspaper – very different from the stories of today!) This is great – I love the imagination in this with the running off to join the army, which would explain why people wouldn’t have been looking for him. I love your poem too. 🙂


    • Thanks, Sheila! I have, indeed, looked at many microfilms of many an old newspaper (and deeds, court records, marriage licenses…). I have the glasses to prove it. 😉

      Those old local “tidbits” had such a colloquial feel to them, like the writer was talking to you over a cup of coffee in the local cafe. As a genealogist, I find them to be gold mines if you’re lucky enough to find an ancestor in them. Subconsciously, that experience worked itself into the story. 🙂

      I hope you weren’t hit too hard by Sandy! We escaped the worst, although the Eastern Shore did get a foot of rain—which was balanced by the 2+ feet of snow in the western counties. But compared to New York and New Jersey? It was a cakewalk for us.


      • Sandy wasn’t too bad here either – just lost power for a little while. I”m glad you held up okay where you are. Tonight’s storm actually sounds worse so far with high winds and rain. So far, so good though. 🙂


  13. Pingback: I Am A Facebook Ogre | The Write Transition

Comments are closed.