Area volunteer treasure hunters group helps police solve crimes

Joseph Kancy was fatally shot in June in front of a Lebanon residence and police were on the hunt for his cell phone that could make a case against his accused killer.

The phone had been tossed from a vehicle in a ditch line on a remote area outside Miamisburg. Investigators knew where cell phone tower pings said it might be, but days of searching turned up nothing.

Enter the Dayton Diggers, a group of men and women experienced in using metal detectors to find treasures, lost valuables and evidence.

It took two days of trying, but the phone was found by Dayton Diggers member Jared Shank of Beavercreek.

Hemilio Castro, 20, of Miamisburg was convicted last week, pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter in 22-year-old Kancy’s death. Warren County Common Pleas Court Judge Donald Oda sentenced Castro to an indefinite sentence of 14 1/4 years to 16 1/2 years in prison.

Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said the defense and prosecution agreed to the plea to a lesser charge during trial. Castro took the stand in his own defense, testifying he acted in self-defense. Fornshell said their only witness to dispute the claim was the victim and he was dead, thus the plea deal.

Credit: Warren County Prosecutor's Office

Credit: Warren County Prosecutor's Office

The Lebanon Division of Police and the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office thanked the Dayton Diggers via social media for their help.

“The investigative efforts leading to the identification and arrest of Hemilio Castro were a combined effort of law enforcement and the public. One of the very first groups of private citizens to offer assistance was the Dayton Digger(s). This organization consisting of metal detecting enthusiasts was quick to volunteer, organize and respond to our investigative needs. These men and women spent two extremely hot days searching a large field full of cicadas for a critical piece of evidence in this investigation, Joseph Kancy’s cell phone. And on the second day, in a wooded area where Castro would later admit to throwing the cell phone belonging to Joseph Kancy, the Dayton Diggers located this critical piece of evidence,” the Facebook post from Lebanon police reads.

Fornshell said the evidence found by the group, with the police watching to assure chain of evidence was followed, was key and saved critical time in the ongoing investigation.

“It was good find and best part of about it is the time it saved,” Fornshell said. “Up to that point we had no no identity leads and the phone data led us to Mr. Castro.”

Shank, 38, an Army veteran, became aware of the life saving uses of metal detectors while serving in Afghanistan. He has been a member of the Dayton Diggers for about 13 years and is primarily in search of historical finds and is an avid coin collector.

But, he noted the nonprofit group also volunteers time to law enforcement and has been involved in searching for bullets in vast areas and especially in poaching investigations with game wardens.

Searching near country roads, especially in ditch lines like in the Castro case, presents challenges because they are often filled with trash and junk including metal cans.

That is were the skill of a experienced metal detector operator comes in.

“You have to know what signal you are looking for with your metal detector,” he said.

The first day Shank and a founding member of the group, Tony Mantia, had no luck finding the phone. They put the word out to the all the 40-plus active members and were successful on the second day of searching with help of more members.

“It was in 30 to 40 minutes we found it,” Shank said. “It is nice to help the community. That is one of the main purposes of our organization to help the community, but normally is it helping historical societies or helping people find lost wedding rings or car keys. That is really gratifying too, but this is a new level and it is very nice to be able to help law enforcement and see the direct impact.”

Mantia, 78, of Bellbrook, said the group formed in 2009 has about 100 members in the region with about half being active.

“Using metal detectors in police work is not unusual. I do see sometimes the police officers using them on film and on TV. To be honest it doesn’t look like they know what they are doing. There is an art to it from someone with experience,” Mantia said. “They (Lebanon police) were very glad to get our assistance and we were very glad to help.”

He added, “It was a great feeling. We like to find stuff for ourselves, obviously, but finding things for police or individuals is really gratifying.”

Staff Writer Ed Richter contributed to this story

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