The pieces of bone found on the man's property, covered with vegetation, were suspect. But the truth did not hit the sheriff's deputies before the inspection of some dog feces and the discovery of what looked like human hair and pieces of clothing.
Freddie Mack had been eaten by his only companions in his rural home near Venus, Texas: his 18 dogs.
"Our initial reaction was a kind of disbelief because there was nothing left," said Johnson County Sheriff Adam King at the Washington Post.
It is very common for animals to eat human remains, Johnson said.
But the whole body, clothes and everything?
The senior investigators that the sheriff's office consulted had never heard of pets consuming a whole person, he said. Final confirmation came on Tuesday when detectives learned that forensic scientists had identified the few remnants of MPs collected as Mack's.
It is unclear whether the big mutinous dogs killed the 57-year-old or devoured him after his death from his "serious health problems," King said. The sheriff's office does not disclose Mack's medical information.
Mack drew the sheriff's attention for the first time in May, when a family member said he had not heard from his relatives for weeks. Mack kept for himself, said King, his only reliable human contact coming every two weeks when relatives came to pick him up at the store.
When asking about Mack, relatives had tried to search his property, but the dogs were aggressive and prevented them from entering, according to the sheriff's office. MPs also struggled to overtake animals. They managed to distract them and even examined with a drone when the dogs withheld them for another visit – but they could not locate Mack.
After declaring that Mack was missing, MPs interviewed family members and neighbors, asking them to find out about social media and contacting hospitals and prisons.
A breakthrough occurred on May 15 when a deputy found the first small bone during another search. More parts of bone followed. The authorities found dog excrement with hair, more bone and tissue, which was the only outfit Mack was supposed to wear, the sheriff's office said. Soon, MPs found one of Mack's two pairs of shoes in the area where the dogs had been placed.
"It was another moment" Aha "for us," said King. "That's where we started to realize."
The implications were bloody but not unprecedented. A 2017 A National Geographic article revealed dozens of pet cases eating their deceased owners, detailed in 20 years of forensic science journals. A 2015 study of more than 60 cases of dog mutilating dog corpses concluded that animals tended to go after the nose and mouth, and to a lesser extent the arms and hands.
Earlier this year, a South Carolina woman died after her two blends of boxers mistreated her in front of her mobile home – "eating her alive", as one witness said. 911.
But Mack's case is distinguished by the thoroughness with which the dogs ate it. His family members were informed of the findings of the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's office that it was Mack's remains, based on a family DNA correspondence, the sheriff's office announced.
As for the dogs, 13 were killed because of their aggression and more and more evidence of the assassination of their owner. Two had already been killed by other dogs.
The other three are still there. "They were nice," said King.