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Updated Monday, November 24, 2008 9:33 PM

Baby's body found in a jar on Fannin County ranch



BONHAM -- A hunter came upon a baby's remains on Friday afternoon, and reported the discovery to law enforcement.

About 2 p.m., the hunter, Forest Morris, said he had been in a field on County Road 1015, less than three miles north of Ravenna. Morris said he had found numerous empty glass jars under a large oak tree, some of them buried partially in the ground. He kicked one of the jars in an attempt to loosen it, and then noticed something inside it. A closer look revealed the body of a baby in the jar.

Reports made by Fannin County Sheriff's Office Investigator Wayne Walker and Deputy Moak Costa describe the events. The baby, technically still a fetus, was found floating in a jar of formaldehyde mixture.

The reports state it was a one-gallon, clear-glass jar with a metal lid screwed on. The lid, said Fannin County Sheriff Kenneth Moore, was corroded and both it and the jar were covered in dirt. The jar also was about half-filled with a clear liquid.

Morris told deputies he took the glass jar to the road and hid it next to a fence. He then went to the road for a cell phone signal and dialed 911.

Costa arrived first and began the details of an investigation that would later not only include Walker and deputy Amos Brian, but also Texas Ranger Brad Oliver. They searched the area, took photographs, took measurements and gathered evidence.

Justice of the Peace Joe Dale was called and had the infant's remains sent to the Dallas County Medical Examiner's Office for autopsy. Cooper-Sorrels took the body, still inside the jar, and its fluids to the Medical Examiner's office.

The property is owned by William Elliott, the report shows. Brian, Oliver and Walker went to his residence to begin digging into the property's past ownership and resident history.

Elliott said he purchased the property in 2005. There were two residences and several outbuildings on the property, but nobody has lived on the ranch since he purchased it.

He put ranch manager Ricky Stanley in charge of clean-up of the property. The investigators next spoke with Stanley, who told them there was a lot of trash on the property when Elliott bought it. They contracted someone to perform bulldozer work this past summer (2008).

Next, the investigators interviewed previous land owner Minnie Phillips, who said she and her husband, now deceased, bought the property about 30 years earlier, in the 1970s. She moved off the property several months before selling it in 2005.

Phillips stated that her husband had been employed by North East Medical Hospital in Bonham for about 18 years as a maintenance worker. The report states that she told investigators her husband would bring old baby formula home from the hospital to feed their hogs. He also hauled other items off from the hospital when needed. But, she stressed, she had no idea how a jar containing the body of an infant could have been left on the ranch.

Saturday morning, Oliver and Walker went to the Medical Examiner's office in Dallas to view the autopsy. The doctor stated the body is of a male child about 22-25 weeks into gestation. The boy may have been a viable live birth, the doctor said, but there is no way to determine now if the boy was alive or stillborn.

The fluid surrounding the body is a mixture medical professionals refer to as "formalin," the report states. This is a mixture of 10 percent formaldehyde with water. The doctor said this is a common mixture used in the medical profession for the preservation of scientific specimens.

Due to the "exceptional preservation of the body," the medical examiner could not provide a time of death, only that he believes the baby had been in the jar for "an extended period of time." Also, because of the formalin mixture, the possibility of finding a viable DNA reference sample is non-existent, the report adds.

Pending a completed toxicology, there is no evidence the baby's death was a homicide, according to the police reports. The medical examiner stated he believes the body, a fetus, may have been a scientific specimen, but offered that only as a hypothesis.

Moore said the investigation into the baby's life and death will remain under investigation, but there are few leads available.

"We've talked with all the people who lived on that land, some who lived there as children," Moore said. He doesn't believe a mother was responsible for putting her baby in a bottle of formaldehyde. "If a child was stillborn, a mother would have buried her child, however simply," he said.

"Any theories a person could come up with could fit the circumstances," Moore said. "We're looking at them all."

Comments ... 11 found!

: 12/11/2008
The "baby" had to get in that jar by some1 not on his own...a fetus is still a human thing n i cant believe some1 would do that 2 some1 that cant defend themself....

frustrated w/cruel acts towards children

: 12/1/2008
i honestly think the whole thing is sad. weither it was just a medical thing. somehow that jar and baby got there and its not right. i really hope they find the truth but i really pray it was just a scientific thing. i would hate to know someone close could do that.


: 11/30/2008
I wrote the same thing as Appalled,for some reason my post did not show up. In fact several of my posts have not shown up.

" "

: 11/30/2008
I am appalled at people who prefer to call a developing baby a fetus only as if that makes it not a baby or human whatever point of development it is in. You will find a number of definitions of baby that includes a fetus or unborn child as a baby. Depends on what source you choose to believe.


: 11/29/2008
I believe that Bonham Hospital should pay for a proper Funeral. It sounds to me that is were it came from.


: 11/29/2008
That headline is irresponsible journalism. A fetus was found- not a "baby's body." Maybe the writer should retake 9th grade science.


: 11/27/2008
Per the article, I find it very ironic that the previous owners worked at the hospital and the man was responsible for disposing of trash or whatever contents from the hospital. Did this hospital not have an appropriate trash bin? Has the law enforcement checked out all the property. This reminds me of what you see on TV. Sounds spooky to me.


: 11/26/2008
More than likely a scientific specimen BUT all ethics were dropped in the disposal of human remains.

Chihuahua Charlie

: 11/26/2008
Illegal abortions! That is what it sounds like... I would definately want to dig some more of these jars up...

Ravenna Resident

: 11/25/2008
I agree with "shocked". I don't think that this is a malicious murder. Sounds to me like someone took a souvenir from a medical lab. Creepy, yes. An act of evil? Probably not.

Resident Ravenna

: 11/25/2008
That is shocking. It does sound more like something that may have been in a medical school lab rather that someone aborting a fetus and preserving it in a gallon pickle jar. I vaguely remember seeing pictures of preserved fetuses that showed the different stages of development. I cannot imagine anyone having one in their home though. I would think it would be easy to find out if this was a lab display due to the type of jar.

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