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March 20, 2007 10:21 AM   Subscribe

Is there a body buried under the lawn of my apartment?

So, I moved to my apartment about 2 and a half years ago. Our apartment has a small enclosed lawn outside our door. Soon after moving in, we noticed some animals digging up the ground pretty frantically. Mostly birds, but the occasional racoon or small mammal can be spotted. The lawn remains fairly torn up for a day or two, then the ground is re-sodded. Oftentimes, we'll wake up to see the lawn torn up from the previous night. This has been happening fairly continuously since we moved in. It's always in roughly the same spot on the lawn. What gives? I'm sure it's not actually a body, but something seems amiss here. Is it worth being suspicious over? Or have I read too many murder mysteries?
posted by SBMike to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Only one way to find out for sure.

Got a shovel? I'd do it at night so that the neighbors won't see you. For all you know, they put it there.
posted by hermitosis at 10:27 AM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

You have read too many murder mysteries and this is a question that is basically unanswerable without the previously mentioned shovel option. Animals will dig in the ground like crazy for dead squirrels, half-buried bones or a half dozen other things. If there is a body buried back there your landlord is either one of the most inept killer/body hiders out there, or there is a more plausible explanation for what is going on in your backyard. Unless you are truly paranoid, I'd talk to your landlord about this in some sort of innocuous "hey I'm tired of the yard being dug up" way and maybe the two of you can get to the bottom of what all the digging is. Danger signs include:

- your apartment rent is uncannily below market rate in an otherwise decent neighborhood
- you dig through eight inches of topsoil and find some sort of concrete enclosure
- bears
posted by jessamyn at 10:30 AM on March 20, 2007 [4 favorites]

It could just as easily be something another dog buried there. A bone, the carcass of a duck found dead in the bushes...
A gopher that died 3 feet underground...
posted by ahilal at 10:31 AM on March 20, 2007

I think this is an interesting question but one AskMe could not possibly answer.
posted by Tuwa at 10:31 AM on March 20, 2007

Maybe somebody's throwing pieces of bread or other bits of food out there and it attracts birds and bugs and varmints?

Or you're atop an Indian burial ground. You might want to call in Zelda Rubinstein.
posted by Midnight Creeper at 10:33 AM on March 20, 2007

septic field ? Dogs love em !
posted by lobstah at 10:38 AM on March 20, 2007

Grubs. The other white meat.
posted by Gungho at 10:42 AM on March 20, 2007

The birds and animals are attracted to the seeding and seedlings used to revitalize the lawn. The problem repeats itself.

Or: animal pirates, treasure chest.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:43 AM on March 20, 2007

I don't know what kind of ants you have in California, but it could be some sort of insect colony. Birds and small mammals both enjoy crunchy lunches.

If it is ants, please don't poison the colony, or you poison the birds that eat the ants and the cats that eat the birds.
posted by breezeway at 10:43 AM on March 20, 2007

Does this happen all the time or just in particular seasons? I'd assume a dead body (or dead animal) would have decomposed by now if that was what was going on. This used to happen to me every spring when the animals worked overtime to get to my flower bulbs. Perhaps the former residents planted bulbs at some point?
posted by necessitas at 10:43 AM on March 20, 2007

- bears

why would anyone bury a bear under their lawn?
posted by matteo at 10:46 AM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Bet on a break in a sewer line.
posted by jamjam at 10:52 AM on March 20, 2007

If it is someone's late beloved pet, they're going to be upset that you've dug it up.
posted by Morrigan at 10:52 AM on March 20, 2007

Would a dead body still be interesting to animals after 2.5 years?

I think grubs or similar is the best explanation.
posted by DU at 10:55 AM on March 20, 2007

You have stumbled upon a highly localized area of spontanteous generation. Those birds and mammals aren't digging down into the earth, they are struggling to emerge out of it.

But seriously. Could be that some other animal frequently buries things in that spot that the birds and small mammals are attracted to.
posted by googly at 11:00 AM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Could it be a salt deposit?
posted by mds35 at 11:16 AM on March 20, 2007

Perhaps the grass has been treated with blood meal or a fish-based fertilizer.
posted by spork at 11:17 AM on March 20, 2007

Thirding grubs, which live just under the roots of the lawn.

Long time ago, I bought some rolls of sod to finish up a backyard in a hurry, trying to beat a deadline for a party. Every evening, I'd look outside before going to bed and the rolls of grass were perfectly flat. Every morning, the sod sections were flipped up, leaving my lawn looking a lot like misplaced throw rugs. I suspected pranking teen neighbors, confused crop-circle creating aliens, and my sanity so I was pretty damn surprised to see the family of raccoons marching into my yard at 2 am and casually flinging aside the sections of turf aside to snack on the grubs below.
posted by jamaro at 11:19 AM on March 20, 2007

Another vote for grubs. Raccoons are very industrious, and did a heck of a number on our lawn after we had it resodded -- they peeled it back like it was a wrapper and ate the grubs that clung to the roots. And once the raccoons had done the heavy lifting, all manner of woodland creatures stepped in to dine at the buffet. This went on for a few days, but eventually the sod became lawn and the grub-grubbing ended. 2.5 years is an awfully long time for this to be a persistent problem, but perhaps your local raccoons, et. al., lack for other sources of food?
posted by mosk at 11:30 AM on March 20, 2007

Could be mushrooms. The majority of the body of a mushroom is underground. They'll live off old wood, fruit, carcasses, whatever. They'll stay alive a long time and raccoons are know to love them. The smell might be driving them crazy with hunger.

Are there fruiting bodies (actual mushrooms) there after it rains?
posted by chairface at 11:58 AM on March 20, 2007

Rent a metal detector at your local tool rental store, about $25. You might pick up a belt buckle or something, and if (when) not, they're loads of fun anyway.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:31 PM on March 20, 2007

One technique that is lower effort and faster than digging, that works to find buried pipes and other stuff that might be attractive is using thin metal, plastic or fiberglass rods to vertically probe the ground. Even in heavy clay soils, this can work to quickly discover reasonably sized objects to a depth of 3 or 4 feet, although it takes some experience to discriminate soft objects from soils. But for decomposing animals of any size, it is not that hard even for novices to quickly map out large structures such as skulls and pelvic cradles.

Basically, you just need some stiff wires or rods (coat hangers can work to a depth of a couple feet in sandy soil), the patience to set up a search grid of the area, and the common sense to record your probing results so that you develop recognizable patterns as you search. Dots made with color pencils for varying depths and "hardness of feel" can be pretty revealing.
posted by paulsc at 3:33 PM on March 20, 2007

Is it a particularly lush patch of sod? If not, consider yourself lucky...it's probably more likely a body than a septic problem.
posted by mrmojoflying at 3:39 PM on March 20, 2007

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