No body found; experts unable to determine odor’s source

GREENFIELD — A strong smell of decay coursing through a Greenfield neighborhood led police and forensic experts to search a city yard Friday morning, combing through maggot-covered ground but coming away with few answers about the source of the odor.

Greenfield Police detectives said they found no evidence of a body, animal or human, in a flower bed in the 800 block of Walnut Street that was cordoned off after police received repeated calls about a strong, foul smell coming from the area.

Forensic anthropologists and coroners sifted through a 20-by-6-foot garden where thousands of maggots and flies had appeared over the last week. The smell of death was so strong, some investigators believed something might have been buried in the ground.

After a morning of searching, experts determined there were no bones, fur or flesh in the soil — leaving dozens of homeowners in the area without an answer for the stench they have been dealing with for days.

At first, the smell was faint, said Tasha Reed, who lives in a home adjacent from the patch of land that was searched. But the odor grew stronger as hot days went by, and the smell of decay became more distinct, she said.

Neighbors started calling the police department early in the week to report the smell, worried there might be remains nearby.

Police officers checked the area Wednesday but did not find anything that out of the ordinary, they said.

Greenfield-Hancock Animal Management was called Thursday by neighbors who hoped an employee would come out and find whether an animal had died and was decomposing, police said.

Instead, they found flies buzzing above a mysterious pile of maggots that stretched the length of the 20-foot planting area, police said.

Detectives put crime-scene tape around the affected area Thursday afternoon, and officers stood watch overnight.

It was all precautionary until experts could search through the dirt, Greenfield Police Department Chief John Jester said. Officers needed to ensure the scene was not disturbed in case the remains were determined to be human, he said.

Search warrants were issued for the property, and a team of forensic anthropologists from the University of Indianapolis was called out to assist with the investigation.

By Friday afternoon, however, detectives had ruled the area was not a crime scene, Detective Lt. Randy Ratliff said. The anthropologists found no suspicious material in the yard, and police instead called the Hancock County Health Department to decide how to deal with the smell, Ratliff said.

Soil samples will be tested in hopes of answering any lingering questions, Ratliff said.

The one thing police know for certain is the smell was one they recognized.

“I don’t know anything that smells like death but death,” Ratliff said.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or