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Unraveling a decades-old Lake Grove family mystery

Mike Carroll, right, is hugged by friend Tony

Mike Carroll, right, is hugged by friend Tony Mraz, in front of Carroll's home at 75 Olive St. in Lake Grove on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018. Human remains were discovered buried beneath the basement floor of  the home on Tuesday. Credit: James Carbone

The fate of George Carroll, a Korean War veteran from Lake Grove who mysteriously disappeared in 1961, has shadowed his children like a dark cloud their entire lives.

The mother told her four kids that their father simply left the house one day and never came back, while others said Carroll had abandoned the family and maybe even returned to Korea.  Some people, meanwhile, suggested their father had met a more nefarious end — and was buried in the basement of the family's home.

The discovery of an intact skeleton beneath the floor of the basement of the family’s Olive Street home right before Halloween has not alleviated the children’s anguish, but it has given them hope that they may some day answer some of their decades-old questions about their dad.

“I want to emphasize how important it is for my family to heal and that they find a way to make peace with this,” said Michael Carroll, 57, a respiratory therapist who has lived in the Lake Grove home almost his entire life.

The skull of the remains found in the basement Oct. 30 had been fractured by blunt force trauma, according to Det. Lt. Kevin Beyrer, the head of the Suffolk police homicide squad, further compounding the mystery. 

“Time is our enemy," said Beyrer, adding that George Carroll’s contemporaries who might have had information are dead. “We want people with firsthand knowledge, but because so much time has passed, we have not been able to find anyone with firsthand knowledge.”

Construction was underway at the house when George Carroll, then 26 or 27, went missing, Beyrer said. Investigators suspect the missing man may have been buried by a worker or someone else who had unfettered access to the home.

Authorities say they will use DNA testing to determine if the remains are those of George Carroll, but they caution that the bones may not yield enough DNA to make a definitive identification. Even if enough DNA can be extracted, officials may not be able to make a determination until the end of December or early January.

“This is an unusual case, no doubt about it,” Beyrer said. “Our goal on this, due to the amount of time that has elapsed, is to answer as many questions and confirm as many suspicions for the family as we possibly can.”

Investigators may never learn the cause of death for the person buried in the basement grave, which remained undisturbed for decades until Oct. 30. Suffolk County Medical Examiner Michael Caplan cautioned that injuries to skulls or other bones could have occurred after the person died.

“You have to resist the inclination to jump to conclusions,” said Caplan, who declined to speak specifically about the Lake Grove case because it remains under investigation. “A skull fracture doesn’t prove a cause of death. It is not an exact correlation. A skull fracture could be post-mortem.”

Beyrer said investigators believe nobody — including George’s wife, Dorothy Carroll — ever filed a missing-person report with the Suffolk County Police Department.

“Dorothy would have been the one to make the report,” he said. “She never did, for reasons she took to the grave with her.”

Michael Carroll, who bought the home from his mother in the 1980s, said he is already convinced that the bones found in his basement are the remains of his father.

He said the discovery has roiled his family and reopened deep emotional wounds created when his father went missing 57 years ago. His brother Steven, 61, was 5 years old when their father vanished; his sisters, Patricia and Jean, who have not responded to requests for comment, were 9 and 7 years old.  Michael Carroll, now 57, was just 8 months old.

Dorothy Carroll, who died in 1998 at the age of 64, never gave her children a straight answer when they asked what happened to their father, the brothers said. “Some of us believed that we were abandoned at some point and this could mean something else, that he was here all along,” Steven Carroll, who also lives in Suffolk County, told reporters outside the old family home earlier this month. “It is kind of comforting to think that.”

Beyrer said it was easy for people to disappear in 1961: There were no cellphones that could be used to track somebody, and credit cards were not common. “It was a completely different era,” he said. “People would disappear, or run away, and not be heard from again. It was possible for people to just disappear.”

Michael Carroll said the last person who might have direct knowledge about his father’s whereabouts was Dorothy’s second husband, Richard Darress, who moved into the Lake Grove home shortly after George disappeared. Darress, a trucker, died in Mexico this summer, Michael Carroll said.

“He would have been someone we would have wanted to speak with,” Beyrer said.

A psychic told George Carroll’s children a few years ago that their father’s remains were somewhere in the basement of the house, which was built in 1925, Michael Carroll said. A team of paranormal investigators visited the home in June. “They said they feel there was stuff going on here,” he said. "There was a lot of energy here.”

Carroll said he started digging up his basement earlier this year, but he stopped because he feared the work would damage the structural integrity of the home. He later brought in a man who used ground-penetrating radar to examine the soil under the basement. which indicated a specific place with a disturbance in the soil five or six feet below the surface, Carroll said. He decided to dig.

Michael Carroll’s adult sons Michael Jr. and Christopher took over the dig a few months ago. After cutting through concrete that covered an old well, they found the bones at about 10 p.m. on Oct. 30. Michael Carroll notified his family about the discovery and called Suffolk police the next day.

Authorities may never be able to definitively determine what happened to George Carroll, but if the bones do belong to his dad, Michael Carroll wants them interred at Calverton National Cemetery in Riverhead.

“I want him to be a soldier,” he said. “I want him to get what he needs.”

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