A false tip from a self-professed psychic prompted Texas authorities to swarm a rural home searching for a nonexistent mass grave that was said to contain 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 on the property about 70 miles northeast of Houston.
"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.
A law enforcement source described the scene to the Houston Chronicle: More than a dozen news reporters hovered nearby and two television helicopters circled above as authorities waited hours for a search warrant.
"The smell of decomposition was overwhelming," the source told the newspaper. "And so the rodeo began. This could very well have been a big deal. But it was ridiculous, as it turned out."
County Sheriff's Capt. Rex Evans said authorities took the tip seriously in part because the caller had details about the interior of the house that only someone who had seen it could have known.
Asked if authorities thought the tip was a hoax, Evans said only that they found no bodies or anything to indicate a homicide had occurred there.
"We are going to continue our investigation and find out how this individual had this information in the first place," Evans said.
He said authorities were working to determine how the woman had such detailed information on the house. Evans said no decision would be made on charges until the caller could be questioned and the district attorney consulted.
The tipster claimed that many bodies, including those of children, were at the home, said Liberty County Judge Craig McNair, the county's top elected official.
A quick search Monday night turned up nothing, authorities said. But the tipster called back Tuesday morning to say deputies had the wrong house, Evans said.
McNair said deputies found blood on a back door and detected a foul odor coming from the house, leading to the search warrant.
"We have to take tips like this very seriously," McNair said.
Long-haul truck driver Joe Bankston told The Houston Chronicle he had his family had lived at the house for three years and that he had no idea why the tipster would have reported that bodies were buried there. He also said his daughter's former boyfriend had intentionally cut his own wrist a couple of weeks ago, which could have explained any blood at the home.
"I haven't killed anybody," said Bankston, 44, who was reached by the newspaper while on the road in Dallas. "And I have a lot of friends, but I haven't helped anybody bury any bodies."