Contractors who found skeletal remains in an abandoned UC Berkeley building two years ago say they told a Cal supervisor about it — but he never told police.
Frustrated by the inaction, the workers reported the remains to the University of California Police Department in January of this year, which is when the skeleton at Clark Kerr Campus came into the public eye.
On Sunday evening, The Scanner asked UC Berkeley officials for a comment on the allegations but had not received a response as of publication time.
In contrast to what the university said in January, the contractors discovered the human skeleton while doing work at Clark Kerr on June 14, 2021. They said they reported it to a UC Berkeley facilities supervisor immediately.
But then months went by, and then more than a year. And the bones stayed put.
It didn’t sit well with the men who found the remains. But they said they felt it was out of their hands and that they wanted to keep peace with UC Berkeley, which had been a longtime client.
They were inspired to speak out publicly this week when they realized there had been no updates on the case despite the many unanswered questions about it.
“I just wanted the truth to come out about when the body was found,” said the contractor whose brother made the grisly discovery. “The story that I really want to get out there is that this was pushed under the rug.”
(The Berkeley Scanner granted the worker anonymity for this story due to his concerns about potential consequences for speaking out. The Scanner was able to confirm key aspects of his account through documentation and other corroborating evidence.)
UC Berkeley police have said little about the skeleton in the months since the story first grabbed international headlines.
The Scanner has repeatedly asked police for updates, including earlier this year when law enforcement agents returned to Clark Kerr and spent nearly a day at the site where the skeleton was found.
But UCPD has repeatedly declined to share information, citing the ongoing investigation and pending work by the coroner’s office.
As of Sunday, a press hold remains in place on the case, the Alameda County coroner’s office said.
To date, the skeletal remains have not been publicly identified.
“The body was hidden” in underground crawl space
On June 14, 2021, the contractor said his crew was working in an abandoned building at Clark Kerr when it needed to access an underground crawl space that connected two buildings to figure out why a steel wire wouldn’t pass through.
The crawl space was boarded up, so the men removed the boards and the contractor’s younger brother went inside.
“He just got really quiet,” the contractor said. “He’s like, ‘Hey man, this is weird. Hold on a second. This looks like a dead body back here.’”
What caught his eye immediately was what appeared to be a large femur bone next to what looked like disintegrating furniture.
“The way the body was, it looked like it was covered up by an old couch. There was a mattress over it. All that was left was wires,” he said. “It was definitely hidden. The body was hidden.”
The skeleton looked like it could have been there for decades.
The man did not touch the bones but used a stick to lift up some of the material to be sure of what was there. He was able to see a skull and the spine.
“Then he just got out of there as soon as he could,” the contractor said. “It was creepy.”
He said the abandoned building was in disarray. It had clearly been frequented by trespassers.
“You could tell people were camping out in there for years,” he said, “the homeless and the garbage.”
The room was also covered in graffiti.
But one message in particular caught their attention: On the boarded-up crawl space, someone had written a woman’s name with an ominous pronouncement.
“It said, ‘payback for so-and-so,’” he said. “They left a message that this person was killed for this name.”
The contractor recalled how the Clark Kerr job site had been a somewhat unsettling place to work.
There have been local stories for years about ghosts at UC Berkeley, including a boy who “roamed the underground steam tunnels here,” a community member told The Scanner earlier this year.
The contractor said, when he was at the Clark Kerr job site, landscapers were using one of its buildings to store tools. But they did their best to steer clear of the area.
“They don’t go all the way inside,” he said, recalling that they had told him why: “‘This place is creepy. We see ghosts in there all the time.’ And this is before we saw the body.”
“Who knows how long it’s been there?”
The workers reported the skeleton to a UC Berkeley facilities supervisor within about 10 minutes of the June 14, 2021, discovery, the contractor said.
(The Berkeley Scanner is not naming him pending an official response from UC Berkeley.)
“When we turned it in, we were expecting a couple weeks to go by, that someone would go check it out and investigate,” he said.
But nothing happened.
Months went by and he ran into the supervisor again, he said. When he asked for an update, the supervisor told him something along the lines of, “I really don’t want to open a can of worms right now.”
The contractor said he and his brother kept waiting for news and did not want to overstep with an important client.
“We were thinking we better not stir anything up,” he said. “We wanted to keep peace with the guy that hires us.”
But the silence was gnawing at them.
“My brother was kinda sick to his stomach,” the contractor said. “It could be someone’s daughter or husband. Who knows how long it’s been there?”
In late December, the contractor said he was finishing a job in Berkeley and decided to drive by Clark Kerr, which is located at 2601 Warring St., a few blocks south of the main Cal campus.
There were workers all over the building. The idea that the remains were still sitting there in the basement was too much.
He then wrote to the UC Berkeley supervisor to ask for an update, according to emails reviewed by The Scanner.
“We talked about it a year ago and I hope everything has been handled properly,” he wrote. “I drove by the building today and I see that it hasn’t been demoed yet, but saw some workers inside.”
He also asked whether his firm was still on the list for work from UC Berkeley — because it hadn’t been called out for a bid in more than six months, which was unusual.
It was over the Christmas holiday and there was no response.
In a follow-up email in early January, he wrote to the supervisor again, according to emails reviewed by The Scanner.
He said the police needed to know what happened and that he and his brother were ready to put the matter behind them.
“Haven’t heard back from you. I’ve been wanting to resolve the issue about the body remains that were found up at Clark Kerr,” he wrote. “My brother was the one who found them and he’s been shaken up over the whole thing. It could be a missing daughter, son, etc. we strongly believe it needs to be turned over to the authorities. It’s been way too long.”
The contractor also spoke with a friend in law enforcement who strongly encouraged him to contact UCPD himself.
Police confirm skeletal remains: “That’s a dead body for sure”
On Jan. 10, the contractor and his brother reported the skeleton to the University of California Police Department.
Officers responded to Clark Kerr quickly and in numbers.
“We were there when all the cops came flying up there,” he said. “It was just like right out of a police show.”
There were detectives and crime scene techs. One of them confirmed what the men had long believed, saying, “That’s a dead body for sure.”
UC Berkeley announced the discovery of the bones at Clark Kerr on Friday, Jan. 13, describing them as “skeletonized” human remains.
Some wondered whether the bones could have belonged to a homeless person who had died of natural causes, or perhaps due to a drug overdose or exposure to the elements.
The university shared few details, including whether or not the death had been deemed suspicious.
“Although the remains are skeletonized, it is not clear how many years they have been there. There are no outstanding cases of missing individuals from the campus community,” the university said. “A cause of death has yet to be determined.”
The Scanner did report at that time something that no one else seemed to notice: UCPD’s crime log listed June 14, 2021, as the “date of occurrence.”
Police declined to provide an explanation for what that might mean.
A month later, on Feb. 13, more law enforcement agents returned to the site and spent much of the day there.
“I saw police (uniformed and plain clothes) back at the abandoned building today. Possibly furthering their investigation,” a community member told The Berkeley Scanner by email. “It was about ten people standing outside the building. More were arriving as I passed by.”
Another community member who saw the police response that day described “all unmarked vehicles and people out of uniform.”
“Some are definitely UC but others definitely aren’t,” he said. “Maybe DOJ or FBI.”
At the time, UCPD declined to provide any information about what those officers were doing or which agencies they had come from.
On Sunday evening, the contractor told The Scanner that, while he was still upset about the supervisor’s apparent silence — and that UC Berkeley had not hired his firm in months despite years of collaboration — it had been a relief in January to see the police at work.
“We felt good. We got it off our chests. We did the right thing turning it in,” he said. “I just wanted to tell the real story: This guy didn’t do what he was supposed to do.”
The Scanner will continue to seek comment from UC Berkeley and will update this story if any statement is provided.
June 12: UC Berkeley said the supervisor, who was a director of campus facilities, is no longer employed by Cal as of May. He was ruled out as a person of interest: “This matter remains an active investigation and no additional information is being released.”