Six feet below the basement floor of the suburban house was the answer to a family mystery that had been haunting Michael and his three siblings for decades. In 1961, when he was just 8 months old, his father, George Carroll, vanished. After decades of rumors and speculation, consultations with psychics and paranormal investigators, Michael — who had purchased the home from his mother before her death in 1998 — cracked into the basement floor about three years ago.
On Oct. 30, Michael and his two grown sons discovered a full skeleton. This week, Suffolk County officials announced the body did belong to George Carroll, Newsday reported.
“I took a chance. I could have done this whole thing and found nothing, and then I would have had a whole messed-up basement,” Michael told Long Island’s News 12. “I have a messed-up basement. But I’m really glad we found what we found. It puts my family at ease.”
But the identification only solves half of the family’s puzzle. According to the Suffolk County medical examiner, George was murdered, the victim of blunt-force trauma to the head. A missing father is now a homicide investigation.
“There’s so many open ends here,” Michael told News 12. “There’s a story behind the story behind the story.”
Time travel back to 1961: President John F. Kennedy was sworn into office. “West Side Story” splashed onto movie theater screens. The U.S.S.R.’s Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. And on Long Island, Korean War veteran George Carroll lived in a small cottage on an isolated wooded road called Olive Street with his wife, Dorothy, and four children — Patricia, 9, Jean, 7, Steven, 5, and Michael, 8 months.
Then, George was gone. His wife would say only that he walked out one day and never returned.
“It wasn’t really much talked about, but we became curious as adults as to where he might be,” Michael’s older brother, Steven, told New York’s NBC 4 in November.
“I was always told, ‘Don’t ask,’” Michael told the New York Post. “So I stopped asking.”
Rumors replaced facts for the Carroll children when it came to their father. According to Newsday, some family members said George had run away to return to Korea. Others suggested he was killed — and buried in the basement. The area was under construction around the time he went missing.
Not long after George disappeared, a man named Richard Darress moved into the Olive Street home. He eventually married Dorothy, and they had a son together. Darress and Dorothy divorced in the early 1980s, Newsday reported, and Darress moved to a Mexican city near the Texas border. He died earlier this year, according to the paper.
Michael eventually bought his childhood home. Additions were constructed onto the original cottage. Olive Street filled up with new houses.
But Michael still wondered about his missing father. Living now in the house where he grew up, he also was reminded of the old rumors about what might be under the basement. He called in a psychic and a team of paranormal investigators, he told the New York Post. Three years ago, he started digging.
He worked alone. As Michael told Newsday, he eventually used ground-penetrating radar to analyze the basement floor. The reading indicated something six feet below. The project went in fits and starts. At one point earlier this year, Michael was afraid he would upset the foundation of the whole house. But he kept going. This summer, when he was felled by a stroke, he had his two grown sons take over.
“I told my kids, ‘Guys come on over here and help me out. You’ve been watching me do this, you get in there,’” he told News 12. “I think they felt bad for me because they knew this was important to me.”
On Oct. 30, one of his sons trudged upstairs to tell Michael there was something he should see.
“It’s not easy for me to get up and down the stairs,” he explained. “I actually did get into the hole where they were digging.”
Michael recognized human remains.
“I felt total peace,” he said. “I felt vindication for my dad. I felt like he was dancing in heaven.”
The next day, after informing his family, Michael reported the find to authorities — on Halloween.
“The DNA was extremely well-preserved within the skeletal remains, even after almost 60 years,” Suffolk County Medical Examiner Michael Caplan told Newsday on Wednesday. With this week’s positive identification, Carroll says his family would like to inter his father in a graveyard with the full honor of a combat veteran.
Authorities continue to investigate the homicide. Suffolk County police say no one ever filed a missing person’s report about George’s 1961 disappearance. Law enforcement officials have also indicated they would have liked to interview the deceased Darress. The Carroll children, however, say they don’t want to speculate or theorize about how George ended up where he did.
“I feel great that my dad is finally free from that crappy hole,” Michael said.