LEXINGTON — Authorities on Wednesday were searching a rural property in western Missouri for bodies and buried glass jars containing notes written more than 15 years ago by children who might have documented sexual abuse by five members of their own family.
Lafayette County Sheriff Kerrick Alumbaugh pleaded for the public's help, saying investigators "believe that there are other victims out there, and we believe people in the public can give us more information."
Alumbaugh said authorities think there might be bodies buried on the property outside Bates City, which is about 30 miles east of Kansas City. He refused to say who any of the bodies were. The property and a nearby home is owned by a man unrelated to the case who is cooperating with authorities.
A small excavator could be seen moving across the property Wednesday. Two ambulances were parked nearby, and crews were searching a creek with metal detectors.
"There has been an indication that there are body or bodies in numerous locations," Alumbaugh said.
The five men were arrested Tuesday and are charged with several felonies, including forcible sodomy, rape with a child younger than 12 and use of a child in a sexual performance. The allegations, which include bestiality and forcing an 11-year-old to have an abortion, date from 1988 to 1995.
All five were being held in the Lafayette County jail on cash bonds ranging from $30,000 to $75,000. It was not immediately clear if they had attorneys.
Three of the five men are lay ministers in the Community of Christ church whose licenses have been suspended, church spokeswoman Linda L. Booth said.
Cpl. Bill Lowe of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said one of the alleged victims, now 26, came forward to investigators in mid-August with the abuse allegations. A probable cause statement released by the Lafayette County prosecutor's office says other relatives of the woman have come forward accusing all five men of abuse, but it's unclear whether all the relatives were claiming to be abused.
Lowe said the woman told investigators that she and the other alleged victims buried glass jars around the property, filled with messages "about what was happening to them" when they were younger.
"Those jars have that information," Lowe said.
The woman told authorities she had "suppressed many of the memories of abuse perpetrated on her" and the other alleged victims, according to the probable cause statement.
Sgt. Collin Stosberg, a spokesman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol, said adults told the children that if they wrote down bad memories and put them in a jar, "the bad memories would go away."
"That was what they were told. Write these memories down, put them in a jar and bury it and the memories would go away," Stosberg said. "It was a way for them to cope."
The probable cause statement identifies the relationship between the alleged victims and the suspects. The Associated Press, however, is not revealing that relationship to avoid identifying the alleged victims of sexual assault.
The woman who came forward claimed some of the men sexually abused her and her siblings, forced her to have sex with a dog, forced the siblings into fake marriages with relatives and forced her to watch as her brother was abused.
"She became pregnant and was made to have an abortion at age 11 1/2. She doesn't remember any sexual abuse after that date," the probable cause statement said.
The Lafayette County Sheriff's Department, the Rural Missouri Major Case Squad and the Highway Patrol were investigating, with the help of the Western Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force.
The suspects were identified as Burrell Edward Mohler Sr., 77, of Independence, and his sons, Burrell Edward Mohler Jr., 53, also of Independence; Jared Leroy Mohler, 48, of Columbia; Roland Neil Mohler, 47, of Bates City; and David A. Mohler, 52, of Lamoni, Iowa.
Police in Columbia seized a computer and discs from Jared Mohler's home on Tuesday, police spokeswoman Jessie Haden said. Jared Mohler is a database administrator at CarFax, a company that provides vehicle history reports to prospective buyers, a coworker said. He was arrested at work.
Another suspect, David Mohler, has worked for Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa, for 27 years and was arrested on its Independence campus.
University President John Sellars said David Mohler periodically traveled to Independence to work on Graceland's phone systems there. He described David Mohler as "a very nice person who got along well with his colleagues."
Sellars said David Mohler and his wife, Michelle, has grown children, but he did not know their ages or where they lived.
Deborah Burris, who has lived across the street from Burrell Mohler Sr. for several years, described the suspect as a friendly, helpful neighbor.
"We didn't even know he had sons. We didn't know anyone but Burrell himself," Burris said.
She said she thought Mohler lived with his wife and a daughter, but she had never seen them. He was occasionally seen walking around the neighborhood but had appeared frail lately, Burris said.
She said Mohler's house has an apartment on the north side, and there had been "quite a bit of activity there at different times."
"I had thought maybe someone was moving in or out of there," Burris said.
Booth, the church spokeswoman, said none of the Mohlers served in leadership roles in the congregations they attended "nor did they serve as volunteer youth workers, teach children or youth church school, or work with children or youth."
"The church takes seriously the allegations that have been made and suspended the priesthood licenses of three lay ministers: Burrell Mohler Sr., David Mohler and Jared Mohler," the church said in a statement.
Booth said one of the men, whom she refused to identify, had been registered to work with children but that license has been terminated.
The Community of Christ, headquartered in Independence, split from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1860 and was known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints until 2001. It has about 250,000 members worldwide.