VANCOUVER, Wash. — James Moore was a transient with mental health issues and a penchant for digging.
When he disappeared last fall, his family pointed detectives to one of his favorite spots: a 25-foot-deep hole he’d dug on a hilltop just north of Highway 500. That’s where police found what they believe are his remains on Wednesday, during an excavation that took months of planning.
“He has an extensive history of digging,” said Detective Patrick Kennedy with the Vancouver Police Department. “It’s documented by his family, and he took family members to this spot.”
At the bottom of the hole, crews found at least two horizontal tunnels that branched from the main chamber. They recovered a shovel and scrap lumber used for shoring up the tunnels. It wasn’t clear how far the side tunnels went, but police found an area 6 feet in diameter that had collapsed, exposing the roots of two trees.
“This is something I have never heard of before, and to see the extent of the work,” Kennedy added. “To say it’s amazing is an understatement.”
The Clark County medical examiner’s office planned to use DNA to confirm the identity of the remains.
Moore’s family last saw him in October, Kennedy said. He was reported missing Nov. 24.
It wasn’t unusual for the 46-year-old to take off for long periods. But it was strange for him not to come home when the weather turned cold, Kennedy said.
After Moore was reported missing, detectives showed his photos to people on a nearby trail. Some said they recognized him as a man who dug there, Kennedy said.
Police brought cadaver dogs to the trail on separate occasions. They hit on the same spot independently, Kennedy said.
As crews worked to recover the body, Dana Sutherland, 39, who lives in the area, said she talked to Moore about a year ago.
“He said he was a shaman, like a priest in a different religion,” Sutherland said. “He said he was digging for buried treasure, but it wasn’t treasure we would call treasure.
“He said his treasure had rested in the roots of trees, and the bones of certain animals.”
The conversation made her uncomfortable and she walked away, she said.
Lewis Williams, a landscaper who often rides his bicycle on the trail, said he met Moore a couple months ago.
“He dug under two big pine trees,” Williams said. “He seemed pretty nice. His main story was he was American Indian, and his belief was, when they died, they’d dig a hole and get buried. I guess he got his wish.”