Workers in a wheat field on Sept. 22, 1992, found a recently disturbed grave at the edge of the abandoned Bowlus Cemetery, less than three miles from Milton-Freewater. Police investigating the report discovered that the shallow grave of Robert Z. Williams, who died in 1929, had been disturbed and Mr. Williams’ skull removed from the grave. Officers believed it was the work of a satanic cult.
According to Capt. John Trumbo, who was Umatilla County undersheriff at the time, evidence of satanic activity had been found in several areas of northern Umatilla County in recent years, and Umatilla County Cpl. Keith Garoutte had identified cult drawings and artifacts and confiscated county property from a site used in satanic ceremonies. Garoutte knew of an active group of Satan worshippers in the Walla Walla area and had heard reports of another in the Weston area. He said rumors of cult activity in the Milton-Freewater area were common, and he knew of activity in both Hermiston and Umatilla.
Anyone can check a book out of the library, Garoutte said, and use what they wish in their own religious ceremony. And self-styled satanists can make it tough to identify a crime as part of satanic religion. Reports of mutilated animals in the 1980s led some to fear a satanic cult was at work in the area; however, since animals that die of natural causes are often mutilated by predators, it is impossible to determine whether the animals were, in fact, part of a ritualistic sacrifice.
Whether the stolen skull was the work of a satanic cult or just some kids messing around in a gruesome fashion was anyone’s guess.