The culprits may not be from here and they are definitely not here after leaving behind an estimated $2.5 million cash crop.
Behind a fence is a commercial timber farm near State Highway 105 where trees are raised to be harvested. It doesn't require employees, it's hidden, and it's an unintended invitation to a pot-growing operation to secretly move in and plant their own crop. It's also undetected by the landowners, but not to a hunter checking on a deer feeder nearby.
"He immediately saw what it was, became very frightened and fled back out of the woods, went to the local city police department here in Cleveland," said Captain Rex Evans with the Liberty Co. Sheriff's Office.
The police brought in Liberty Co. deputies, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the feds on Saturday afternoon. Later, the crop of a thousand marijuana plants -- more than an acre's worth -- was cut down and burned.
It was the second big grow operation shut down in Liberty Co. this month. The last one near Hardin netted some two tons of marijuana. Cartel ties are strongly suspected there and perhaps here, too. A campsite was found with a propane grill still warm and one of the guns for the guards -- all of whom were gone by the time authorities arrived -- but authorities found some documents and letters left behind.
"Everything was in Spanish and from Mexico, so that certainly does lend some credibility to that theory," said Capt. Evans.
Liberty Co. remains largely a rural county, but two big pot busts and the possibility of cartel involvement are making some of those people nervous.
"Now the person you're standing behind in the laundry store or the person pumping gas next to you may not be the person they look like; they may the person that was part of that farm you're speaking of," said horse rancher Jessie Guillory.
For years, Liberty County's illegal drug operations were mainly meth labs. Now we're told, much of the new meth is being produced in Mexico and being shipped to the states. The availability of forest land and few people in Liberty County make it more attractive for foreign cartels to grow the product here rather than shipping it in, says Capt. Evans, so it is not surprising to find the farms. The size of the hauls in these recent busts make it significant.
No arrests were made in the earlier pot farm raid. Police do not suspect the landowner had knowledge that a couple of acres of the far end of the property had been co-opted by pot producers. The product, however, went up in smoke this weekend when the plants were burned and destroyed.