A false tip from a psychic prompted Texas authorities to swarm a rural home searching for a nonexistent mass grave and up to 30 bodies, including those of dismembered children.
A few hours later it was clear the tip was nothing more than a gruesome wild goose chase.
"There’s no crime scene," Liberty County Judge Craig McNair told reporters as deputies, Texas Rangers and FBI agents wrapped up a fruitless search that gained national media attention.
Mr McNair and Capt Rex Evans, spokesman for the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, said the woman who twice called in the tip would be investigated for making a false report.
Mr Evans said the sheriff’s office took the tip seriously because she claimed children’s bodies were in the mix. The department called the FBI for help, and the Texas Rangers spent hours obtaining a warrant to search the one-storey brick home at a rural intersection near Hardin, about 82km east of Houston. A cadaver dog also joined the search.
But soon after media reports said the sheriff’s office confirmed having found bodies, outlets quoted the same agency saying they had no evidence of them.
The Houston Chronicle and KHOU-TV tracked down the home’s occupant, who said he and his wife, both long-haul truck drivers, had left on Sunday en route to Georgia and he knew nothing about dead bodies.
"I haven’t killed anybody," Joe Bankson told the Chronicle .
He told the television station his daughter’s ex-boyfriend had gotten drunk and cut his wrist at the home two weeks before, possibly leaving blood that might have piqued investigators’ interest.
Mr Evans declined to address details when he finally addressed reporters as other officers packed up to leave.
"A this time no bodies have been recovered," Mr Evans said. "We have investigated this part of the scene as much as we can."
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