The bones found recently in a crawlspace under Julia Randall Elementary School are not the result of foul play, but of a mischievous seventh-grader who put them there in 1963 to torment girls, according to Duane Kaufman.
Kaufman, now a superintendent for Amon Builders, was just 12 years old when he dug up the bones and hid them in the dark, dusty crawlspace under JRE's historic Rock Building. Little did he know that he was creating a mystery that would captivate the community about 40 years later.
The bones came to light when a plumber, looking for a place to run pipes, stumbled upon the skeletal remains as he shined a flashlight through a small opening into the crawlspace. Police were summoned and local archeologist Penny Minturn was asked to investigate the site.
The bones, about one-third of a full skeleton including part of the skull, were sent to the Arizona State Museum to be examined and dated.
"Unusual lead fragments" also were recovered from the crawlspace, leading authorities to consider the possibility that foul play could be involved.
After reading the July 29 headline in the Roundup, "Human bones found in crawlspace," Kaufman realized that the bones were the ones he hid in 1963.
Kaufman stopped after work that day to enjoy a beer with friends.
"A bunch of my buddies were sitting down there," Kaufman said. "We were having a cold beer, and George Pittman said, ‘God, did you hear about the body they found underneath the school,' and I went, ‘Oh, my God.'"
Kaufman, whose family moved to the Rim country in 1959, grew up next door to Anna Mae Deming on Main Street.
He talked about the incident like it happened yesterday.
"Our property went from Main Street clear up to Frontier, and so did Anna Mae's," Kaufman said. "One day, I come running down through the back part of Anna Mae's yard -- just taking a shortcut. That's when I found the bones sticking out of the ground there."
Kaufman went to report his discovery and returned with a small group of friends to dig the bones up. They were only about a foot deep.
"A leg bone was sticking up," he said. "I thought it was a dog or something like that. We got to digging -- and my dad was there, and my older brother and Jim Denny and Ed Barkman -- and (my dad) said we ought to cover it back up because we might get in trouble."
Deming returned home from a vacation to find the boys digging in her yard.
In addition to the bones, they had dug up several arrowheads and pottery shards.
"I asked them what they were doing and they said they found Indian bones," Deming said. "I said, ‘You just put them all back. They're not to be disturbed.'"
Whether they are, in fact, Native American remains will be determined by the tests the museum is conducting. The boys did as they were told and reburied the bones, but at some point over the next few days, Kaufman came up with the idea of digging them up and taking them to JRE. One day when Deming was away from home, he returned by himself.
"I just filled up a grocery bag," he said. "I remember I had the skull and a few other bones. We found the whole skeleton, but I didn't take the whole skeleton over there."
When reminded of Kaufman's return visit, Deming paused, then said, "I should have paddled his bare little butt."
Kaufman, meanwhile, enlisted the help of a couple classmates.
"I took them to school and at lunchtime, me and Sambo Haught and Bruce Mercer went down there and took the screen off that vent and we used a mop or a broom to shove them back in there."
The crawlspace is located at the end of several rooms with low ceilings that were once used as locker rooms.
"The room underneath was a boys dressing room," Kaufman said. "The girls dressing room was underneath there too.
"We'd take the kids down there and shine a flashlight in (the crawlspace)," Kaufman said. "We took everybody down there, but it didn't last for long."
Not long at all. School authorities soon caught on to what Kaufman and friends were up to.
"(It only) lasted for about a day," Kaufman said. "Then we got in big trouble over it. We got ratted out, and it wasn't a real good experience for me after Coach McDowell and my dad got done -- I had to stand up to eat supper for a few nights."
He doesn't know why the bones were never returned to Deming's back yard, but when the story of their discovery broke in the Roundup, a slightly embarrassed Kaufman contacted Payson Police Det. Matt VanCamp.
"I didn't want them to spend a lot of time and resources on it," he said.
When he heard the story, VanCamp knew he had his man.
"The way he described the bones was consistent with what was found," the detective said.
When Kaufman got home, his son Clay was waiting for him.
"I had told that story to a bunch of people, my son included, about the kind of (troublemaker) I was in school. I got home and my son said, ‘Dad, was that you? I thought you were (kidding) me all that time.'"
But Deming had the last words.
"I'm very proud of how Duane turned out," she said. "He's a hard worker. But you tell him to bring those bones back and bury them right here where he found them."