For years, hikers had been talking about the gingerbread house. Someone had built it deep in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in Washington. Perched nearly three metres high above the ground, it had tiny windows and a cute porch. It looked like something straight out of a fairytale. But it wasn’t.
Christopher Jones, an employee with the Department of Natural Resources, heard about the gingerbread house, and, suspecting it was illegally built, decided to find it.
He tried for months with no luck. Finally, in November 2016, he stumbled across the house. He climbed up the ladder and went inside. He found food, dishes, bedding, candles, drug paraphernalia – and, on the walls, framed photos of young girls dressed as fairies. Two of the photos showed the girls facing the camera, naked.
“It was shocking and disturbing,” Jones says. “I worked in the woods for 11 years and never seen anything quite like that.”
Jones reported the find to the local sheriff’s office and brought a detective back to the remote location. Inside the house, the detective found an envelope stuffed with pictures.
“Some of these appeared to be fictional, but there were several that contained images of young girls naked or scantily-clothed,” the charging papers read.
The girls in the photos appeared to be as young as eight years old.
The FBI were called in. They searched the house, but couldn’t find any clues as to who had built it or who had left the sexually explicit photos there. They sent a mug and other items to their lab in Quantico for DNA testing.
Then came the breakthrough. A search and rescue volunteer, who’d spent a lot of time in the forest, had hiked past the gingerbread house plenty of times before. He said he'd once seen an SUV parked on a nearby trail. He had the licence plate details, and was able to give those to the FBI.
The licence plate led the FBI to Daniel Wood, a 56-year-old man living in a condo in nearby Mill Creek. Wood had no criminal record.
The FBI set up surveillance. When Wood dropped a paper cup he’d been drinking from, they said they took a DNA sample from it, as well as a sample from the handlebars of his motorbike.
The sample on the paper cup allegedly matched the DNA found in the cabin.
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When the FBI searched Wood’s condo, they allegedly found a memory card that contained thousands of images of naked girls. Authorities claim that among the images were some of the same two young girls who were naked in the photos inside the gingerbread house.
Last week, Wood was charged with two counts of possession of depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. He has been summoned to appear in court and ordered not to have any contact with minors.
It’s still not known who built the gingerbread house.