When a nuclear plant employee’s remains are found in the plant furnace, some say it was suicide, others murder.
Twenty miles northwest of Cincinnati is the small farming town of Fenald, Ohio. For many years, the town’s main employer was “The Feed Materials Production Center,” also known as N.L.O. Unknown to the public, NLO was actually owned by the Department of Energy. From 1953 to 1989, it was one of the few plants in the United States that secretly processed high-grade uranium for nuclear weapons. Former N.L.O employee Harry Easterling believed the plant was safe:
But conditions at the plant weren’t fine. In the fall of 1984, N.L.O. was rocked by scandal when a factory accident released massive amounts of radioactive smoke into the atmosphere. An investigation later revealed that, over the years, N.L.O. had released more than 200 tons of radioactive dust particles into the air and local water sources. Reporter D.C. Cole investigated the story:
In June of 1984, just a few months before the N.L.O. disaster, one of the plant’s employees, Dave Bocks, died a gruesome death inside the factory. His family was convinced he was murdered, possibly because he was going to blow the whistle on the quantity of radioactivity the plant was releasing.
Dave was hired at N.L.O. as a pipe fitter in 1981, and quickly earned the trust and respect of his co-workers. Dave was divorced, but remained close to his ex-wife and three children. Casey Drake is Dave Bocks’ daughter:
Dave worked the graveyard shift. On Sunday night at 11:00 PM, he met his rideshare partner and co-worker, Harry Easterling, in the parking lot at a local restaurant as usual:
Dave’s job was to inspect and maintain equipment throughout the factory. This included making sure that the safety pumps and dust collectors used in the uranium processing were working properly. Harry realized Dave was aware of what the factory was doing:
Only the maintenance crew and security personnel worked the graveyard shift. The production lines were shut down. At midnight, Dave reported to the maintenance room for his assignment. Harry recalls that the night began just like any other:
A worker saw Dave and a supervisor in a parked pickup truck. He said Dave and the supervisor seemed to be having a “serious discussion”, but he could not tell what they were talking about. He noted that the windows of the truck were rolled up, even though the weather was hot and humid.
An hour later, the same witness ran into Dave on the factory grounds. He noticed that Dave was walking towards Plant 4, not Plant 8 where he’d been assigned. It was the last time Dave Bocks was seen alive. Later that morning, Harry Easterling became suspicious because he hadn’t seen Dave in hours:
At around 7:30 that morning, a furnace operator in Plant 6 told his supervisor that the casings in his oven were covered with a strange, sticky residue. The worker also noticed a strange odor. The supervisor apparently found nothing wrong and told the furnace operator to go back to work.
On the way to his next shift, Harry went to the restaurant to meet Dave as usual. It was Dave’s turn to drive, and his car was already there:
Harry was worried. When he got to work, he reported Dave missing and had a security guard pry open his locker. Inside the plant, an investigation had begun. Plant records show that at 5:15 on the morning Dave disappeared, the temperature in the furnace in Plant 6 had briefly dropped 28 degrees. This sudden change suggested that something “foreign” had been dumped into it. A worker also found what appeared to be piece of bone on the lip of the furnace. The Sheriff’s Department was called in and the furnace was shut down.
It took three days for the molten liquid inside to cool. When employees searched through the waste material, they found a set of keys. Former Hamilton County Police Chief, Deputy Sheriff Victor Carelli, investigated the case:
If the keys pulled from the furnace were Dave’s, they would presumably have fallen in along with the “foreign body” at 5:15 AM. But if Dave’s keys were seen more than two hours later in his toolbox, how did they get into the furnace?
Investigators concluded that Dave was probably dead. Harry was stunned. He was also confused about Dave’s keys:
Besides the keys, investigators found a steel toe from a boot, part of an eyeglass frame, fragments of Dave’s walkie-talkie, and a stainless steel wire that was looped together in three oddly connecting circles. Also recovered were several pieces of human bone.
Former N.L.O. employee, David Day agrees:
Investigative reporter, D. C. Cole believes he knows why Dave Bocks may have been murdered:
According to former Chief of Police Victor Carrelli, the evidence for murder was never there:
Harry Easterling hopes someone might come forward and tell what they know:
In 1989, five years after Dave Bocks’ death, the N.L.O. was shut down. Sadly, years later, Dave’s family is still unable to lay him to rest. Dave’s remains are just a few bone fragments and are too toxic to be buried in the ground. They have been sealed in a drum, and shipped off to a Nevada test site to be stored with other radioactive materials.
How Dave died and why remains a mystery.