It's one of the biggest pot busts in Grimes County history. Monday's discovery of more than 300 marijuana plants came after the crop owner's death, ending his growing spree and curbing a potential distribution network.
Michael Darnell, 60, spent his final days in a rundown home in the backwoods off of FM 1486, just south of Richards. But when authorities were tipped off to his death Saturday, they found more than a body. A slight bit of marijuana was along-side him.
Then, they searched his property with ATVs, on foot, and even from the air using a helicopter for a bird's eye view of the property. They found a little bit more pot.
"The subject had tables out here for growing marijuana, for starting it," said Ryan Rutledge, a Grimes County Sheriff's Office investigator. "He had marijuana growing inside the residence, marijuana growing on the porch, and had different operations in the woods."
Rutledge has made many a drug bust in the Brazos Valley. "I've seen them anywhere from a single plant up to, now, 300," he said. "This is the largest that I've ever been a part of."
That's 320 plants found Monday, to be exact. They ranged in size from three inches to seven-and-a-half feet tall. While the majority of the plants weren't huge in height, their estimated value isn't anything short of big. Street value of a pot plant: $1,500. Street value of this personal crop: $480,000.
"It's very possible that it was for distribution purposes," Rutledge said. "It's a good step for our county. It might knock down on some of the distribution of marijuana in Grimes County."
The distributor obviously won't face any charges. His cause of death has yet to be determined, though foul play is not suspected. As for his homegrown goods, they won't be around for too much longer.
"What we'll do is wait for them to dry," said Rutledge. "We'll get a total weight on all the marijuana, and then we'll destroy it at our office.
"Forty acres is a big area, so there's possibly more growing that we haven't located," he continued.
That was clearly demonstrated with a quick Tuesday afternoon walk through the property. The crop officially grew bigger after Rutledge stumbled upon one plant they had missed. That makes 321 pot plants, and maybe counting.
Grimes County authorities were assisted in the search by experts from Montgomery County's Special Investigations Unit, where Darnell had been arrested on drug charges in the 1970s and 90s. DPS narcotics experts also assisted in the search.