Police say no remains found in search for missing mom

DELTA, Utah (AP) — A search in the Utah desert for a missing mother took a strange turn Thursday when the site that authorities said contained human remains turned up no body parts.

Cadaver dogs discovered the location this week amid a renewed search for Susan Powell, and investigators declared that they had found human remains.

But authorities now say that after digging into the site, they have found no remains. Police did not say why they earlier stated that they had found human remains when they had not even seen any.

“Right now, we haven’t found anything except for these scents that these dogs are picking up,” said West Valley City Police Lt. Bill Merritt. “We have not come across bones.”

Because the site is on government land, a federal anthropologist was brought in to examine the site Thursday and see if it was part of an ancient burial ground. Investigators then began sifting through what was described as a shallow grave as they searched for clues, but had so far found nothing.

Investigators previously said that a federal anthropologist had determined the remains found in a remote area of central Utah were not ancient, but instead were much more recent.

“We’re not looking at some ancient burial ground,” Merritt said. “This is not going to be some cowboy from the West.”

Merritt said later Thursday that authorities had only begun to dig into the dirt in the afternoon. By 5 p.m., they had dug about a foot down and three feet across, but came across nothing.

“Shovel by shovel full,” Merritt said. “Every shovel full that comes out is being sifted through. It’s a painstaking process.”

West Valley City Police Chief Thayne “Buzz” Nielsen said the area where the dogs indicated remains would be found was beneath what appeared to be a shallow grave covered with dirt.

“They have found what looks like a grave where the dirt has been shoveled and moved around a little bit,” Nielsen said.

Police have been searching since Monday in the area near Topaz Mountain in Juab County for any clues in the disappearance of Susan Powell. The site is about 135 miles southwest of the location where she was last seen at her home in West Valley City on Dec. 7, 2009. It is also just about 30 miles south of where Powell’s husband, Josh Powell, told police he took his two young children camping on the night his wife vanished.

He is the only person of interest in the case, but has never been arrested or charged.

Merritt said the discovery “fits in with what we’ve been looking for.”

Asked whether he was hopeful Susan Powell’s remains would be found there, Merritt called it “50-50 at this point.”

Authorities planned to bring in fresh cadaver dogs to search around the area later Thursday.

Meanwhile, Susan Powell’s father, Chuck Cox, was headed to the site, authorities said.

Susan Powell was 28 when she was reported missing Dec. 7, 2009, after she failed to show up for her stockbroker job. The case has cast a harsh spotlight on Powell’s husband. Josh Powell has not returned repeated calls to the Associated Press seeking comment. In a string of national television interviews last month, he denied killing his wife or having anything to do with her disappearance.

“We would love this to be a break,” Merritt said. “We hope, to a certain extent, that it is not Susan because that would mean that she is maybe alive somewhere.”

The area is in a rugged remote section of Utah’s central high desert surrounded by grasses and sagebrush and punctuated by jagged mountains rising from the flat landscape. At the time of year Susan Powell vanished, it would have been covered in snow, the ground frozen.

Josh Powell was driving a minivan that night.

Merritt said the site would have been difficult to reach in December but not impossible.

“Impossible? I can’t say that,” he said. “Difficult? It probably would be.”

Meanwhile, friends and family waited and prayed.

In May, speculation swirled that remains found in the desert about 50 miles southwest of Salt Lake City might have been those of Susan Powell, but authorities later said it was a young adult male.

Last month, investigators searched mine shaft-dotted mountains near Ely, Nev., and later served a search warrant at the Puyallup, Wash., home that Josh Powell shares with his father, seizing computers and journals.

This latest search is in an area popular for gem and rock hunters. Police have said Josh Powell liked to rock hunt in the area.

“From the very beginning he clearly indicated he had been in and around the area,” said West Valley City Police Sgt. Mike Powell, who is not related to the family of the missing woman.

Susan Powell’s father, Chuck Cox, expressed doubt that the remains belonged to his daughter because of how difficult it would have been to access the area in winter.

“We’re just waiting,” he said Wednesday evening.

The Powell family put out a statement late Wednesday urging police to put out details about the remains.

“With very little information available to the public, we can only hope that additional information is released quickly to minimize heartache to those of us who love Susan. In the meantime, we continue to hope for Susan’s safe return,” it said.

Josh Powell has said he believes his wife ran off with another man and has told police he left her at home about 12:30 a.m. on that Dec. 7 to go winter camping in freezing temperatures with their young sons — then 4 and 2 — about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City. The 4-year-old confirmed the trip to police.

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