Authorities were searching a rural property on Wednesday for one or more bodies as well as glass jars with notes written by children who claim to have been abused by their relatives about 20 years ago.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol said crews were scouring several acres of land outside Bates City in connection with the arrest of five men on various charges of sexually abusing children.
Lafayette County Sheriff Kerrick Alumbaugh said authorities believe there may be a body, or bodies, buried on the land. He asked for the public’s help in the investigation, saying that there may be other victims out there.
Five members of the same family, all males, were arrested Tuesday. They face charges of crimes against children, using a child in a sexual performance, sodomy and rape, crimes that supposedly occurred from 1988 through 1995, according to court records.
The arrested were Burrell Edward Mohler Sr., age 77, of Independence, and his sons, Burrell Edward Mohler Jr., age 53, also of Independence; Jared Leroy Mohler, age 48, of Columbia; Roland Neil Mohler, age 47, of Bates City; and David A. Mohler, age 52, of Lamoni, Iowa.
All five were being held in the Lafayette County jail on cash bonds ranging from $30,000 to $75,000. It wasn't immediately clear if they had lawyers.
Cpl. Bill Lowe of the highway patrol said one of the victims, a daughter of one of the accused, came forward to investigators in mid-August with the allegations and that her siblings have been cooperating in the probe.
Lowe said the woman told investigators that she and the other victims, three girls and one boy, buried glass jars around the property, filled with messages about what was happening to them when they were younger.
"Right now what our main focus is the glass jars and trying to locate them," Lowe said. "Those jars have that information."
He said crews were using dogs to assist in the search on the property that had been owned by the Mohler family outside Bates City.
Five victims have been located, but the number could possibly expand according to Lowe. He said all were under the age of twelve at the time.
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.
Columbia police seized a computer and discs from Jared Mohler's home on Tuesday, said police spokeswoman by the name of Jessie Haden.
One of the suspects, David Mohler, has worked for Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa, for twenty-seven years and was arrested on its Independence campus.
"Police came in and put handcuffs on him and led him away," university President John Sellars said. "It was all very quiet and subdued."
He said David Mohler periodically traveled to Independence to work on Graceland's phone systems there. Sellars described David Mohler as a very nice person who got along well with his colleagues.
"We were stunned," Sellars said. "At this point these are allegations, and of course we need to hear more because I don't know very much at this point."
Sellars said he spoke to David Mohler's wife, Michelle Mohler, on Tuesday and that she was also shocked and stunned.
He said the couple 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.
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.