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Thread: 09-17-2011 Topaz Mountain Search Yields Charred Wood and Decomp

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    09-17-2011 Topaz Mountain Search Yields Charred Wood and Decomp

    West Valley City police have concluded an investigation into a shallow grave found during a search of Utah's West Desert for clues in the disappearance of Susan Cox Powell.
    Cadaver dogs had indicated that human remains were present what officials called a shalllow grave, but a dig found no human remains. Instead, the dig unveiled pieces of charred wood.
    Video at link
    http://www.fox13now.com/news/kstu-su...,1778540.story

    About 100 pieces of wood ranging in size from a dime to a golf ball were dug out of the area, said West Valley City Lt. Bill Merritt. It is believed the wood would have been used to destroy human remains, he said.
    Photos at link
    http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/52...rritt.html.csp

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    So wouldn't the wood contain DNA of the body it was it burning?

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    I don't really believe they can say no human remains were found at this point. If a body was cremated there, there would probably be teeth and small pieces of bone remaining. Those most likely won't be identified until they get to the lab. Unfortunately if there was a body burned there it is unlikely that they will get any DNA, as it would have been destroyed by the heat.

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    Updated with the latest news.

    Here is a timeline of some recent events:

    Jan - July 2011 - no notable activity on case

    July 15, 2011 - Steve Powell says he will post portions of Susan Powell’s childhood journals online.

    Late July - police call Sandy, former girlfriend of Steven Powell, about the report she gave of SP bragging about a cabinet full of Susan's stuff not found in earlier police search. They had not been in touch with her for many months prior to that.

    around Early Aug - per police, they got a search warrant for the Powell home prior to the Ely search.

    Aug. 18 - West Valley City police say there is a break in the case and that a search will be conducted in Ely, Nevada. Few other details are released.

    Aug. 19, 20 - West Valley City police search abandoned mine shafts in Ely and say they are following up on information developed from a search warrant served earlier in the case. They find no signs of Susan and return to Utah.

    Thurs Aug. 25 - Police execute a search warrant at the home of Steve Powell in Puyallup. Search completed at 10 p.m.

    Friday Aug 26 11 p.m. - Per SP, JP decides to go camping. (25 hours after search completed.)

    Saturday, Aug 27 12:00 a.m. - JP leaves with kids to go camping. (per SP, 1 hour after deciding to do so.)

    Mon, Sep 12, 2011 - WVC police begin search of Topaz Mntn area in Delta, UT. Unlike Ely, this search includes a plane. Police say they are following up on information.

    Tues Sep 13, 2011 - JP called by media to get his thoughs on the search, he says he is "too busy." WVC says "we have reason to guess there's a body out here..." referring to Topaz Mountain. Search continues.

    Wed Sep 14, 2011 - At around noon, the search suddenly shifts 2 miles, based on a tip from Mr Tony Abbott, who noted suspicious activity there along a road.
    At 1 p.m., Police have encouraged citizens to report any tips which may be connected to Susan Powell’s disappearance.
    At 1:30 p.m. Report that "human remains found through cadaver dogs." And that a Medical Examiner is coming....

    Thurs Sep 15 - Mr. Cox arrives at burial site, later says to media he was brought there by authorities. Police are giving cryptic reports about what has been discovered. They say the dirt has been recently disturbed at the site, that human remains have been found, but no bones. They are still digging and looking for more remains.

    Fri Sep 16 - Still no body or bones discovered. They still have only dug two feet deep and now say they are no longer digging. Cadaver dogs still hitting on dirt in grave site. Sifting for decomp particles with equipment. Weather gets bad later in day, search postponed for Saturday.

    Sat Sep 17 - Police announce that no body has been found, and that they have stopped digging. Will be searching the Topaz Mntn area again on Sunday. They are disappointed. They say they found charred wood that came into contact with human remains in the grave.


    Sources: The Salt Lake Tribune, West Valley City Police Department, Kiirsi Hellewell, Charles Cox, media reports


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    Quote Originally Posted by mysteriew View Post
    I don't really believe they can say no human remains were found at this point. If a body was cremated there, there would probably be teeth and small pieces of bone remaining. Those most likely won't be identified until they get to the lab. Unfortunately if there was a body burned there it is unlikely that they will get any DNA, as it would have been destroyed by the heat.
    I think the charred wood was from a campfire JP had made to light the area and stay a little warmer while he dug the grave (a long process in that freezing weather and ground.) When he was ready to put the body parts in the grave, he put the fire out and threw the charred wood into the grave first, to hide evidence of someone being there.

    I don't see the point of cremation. The smell would be horrendous, and he already had a grave to hide the remains. It would also slow a process I am sure he wanted to wrap up as soon as possible.

    MOO.

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    I agree, if a body was burned there, bones and teeth would still be present. Even when a body is professionally cremated, bone fragments can be found in the remaining ashes. To produce the level of heat necessary to destroy bone matter in an outdoor setting is very difficult without the use of certain chemical agents. With wood, I think it's nearly impossible. I'll do some research.
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    Quote Originally Posted by mysteriew View Post
    I don't really believe they can say no human remains were found at this point. If a body was cremated there, there would probably be teeth and small pieces of bone remaining. Those most likely won't be identified until they get to the lab. Unfortunately if there was a body burned there it is unlikely that they will get any DNA, as it would have been destroyed by the heat.
    OK, so we know in order for the total cremation of human bones it has to be very hot heat and if not...then over a very long period of time. If they didn't find teeth or bones then a partial burned body had to be transferred somewhere else for burial or someone sat by a fireside for a long time and kept the fire burning. ?

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    This is lame I know, but maybe they can link the wood to JP somehow.

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    Could the police ask to talk to the children? Or how about just allowing Mr. Cox to see his grandchildren and then going from there?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Knox View Post
    This is lame I know, but maybe they can link the wood to JP somehow.

    http://webcache.googleusercontent.co...&ct=clnk&gl=us
    Another question for those familiar with the area: How 'woody' is this area of the desert? Would someone have any easy time finding firewood in this area?

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    My understanding is the optimum temperature range for cremation is 1600 degrees to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit...JMHO
    "It's been clear from day one that the contradicting statements from the family members are not the truth," said Capt. Johnny Greenwood, spokesman for the Putnam County Sheriff's Office.

    JUSTICE HAS BEEN KIDNAPPED AND HIDDEN IN THE LAW

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    Quote Originally Posted by Emeralgem View Post
    My understanding is the optimum temperature range for cremation is 1600 degrees to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit...JMHO
    That's my understanding too. And it still takes more than an hour at that temp. I think the average temp of a campfire is 500 degrees (932 F).

    It's not that you can't burn the body, I just don't think you could burn the bones into little bitty bits at 932. And yeah, I've read the stench is horrific.

    ETA: It says it takes 2-2 1/2 hours at the cremation temps. http://www.nfda.org/planning-a-funer...ation/160.html

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    Some success has been noted in the recovery of DNA from burned remains. In 1991, Sajantila et al. reported successful DNA typing on all 26 samples extracted from 10 fire victims exhibiting extreme charring. Brown et al. recovered DNA from human early Bronze Age cremated bone from Bedd Branwen, Anglesey.
    Experimental work by Tsuchimochi et al. in 2002 indicated that DNA could be amplified and typed successfully from dental pulp after teeth had been exposed to temperatures up to 300C (552F). Attempts were not successful using teeth exposed to temperatures above 300 C. (=552 F).

    http://si-pddr.si.edu/jspui/bitstrea...al_remains.pdf

    A campfire temperature can burn as hot as 1200K =1700F
    http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasc...6/gen06272.htm

    A blow torch can reach temps over 3600F.

    They may not be able to find any DNA.

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    Not necessarily a dead body ---


    "These charred pieces had something to do with decomposition," said West Valley Police Lt. Bill Merritt.

    That means at some point, the charred pieces very likely came in contact with either blood or decomposing flesh or clothing that contained some of that material, he said.

    As for how human decomposition got on the charred pieces, Merritt said, "There are so many different scenarios of what it could be."

    http://www.deseretnews.com/article/7...an-Powell.html

    I withdraw my earlier opinion that LE needs a new spokesperson. I think that possibly it's that some news outlets need some new reporters.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Emeralgem View Post
    My understanding is the optimum temperature range for cremation is 1600 degrees to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit...JMHO
    Right, and an open wood fire wouldn't get that hot.

    The hottest temperature in most wood fires are found in the red embers after the fire has been going for awhile. These temperatures are from 1200 degrees to 1500 degrees. However, since so much air is circulating around the fire, grates and other nearby object rarely exceed 1000 degrees.
    http://www.hearth.com/econtent/index...ates/info/582/

    I also found this article which explains how DNA is extracted from burned bones.

    ETA:
    When applied to bones soaked, burned or buried for up to nine years, this method increases the purity and yield of DNA with respect to the traditional phenol-chloroform method and significantly improves
    multiplex STR genotyping using fluorescence-based methods. The results of this research will assist forensic scientists in the identification of DNA from victims whose bodies underwent significant trauma or burning, precluding the utilization of traditional forensic DNA identification techniques.
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    Quote Originally Posted by bessie View Post
    I agree, if a body was burned there, bones and teeth would still be present. Even when a body is professionally cremated, bone fragments can be found in the remaining ashes. To produce the level of heat necessary to destroy bone matter in an outdoor setting is very difficult without the use of certain chemical agents. With wood, I think it's nearly impossible. I'll do some research.
    I did some research earlier this evening Bessie, and here is a bit of what I found.

    <Please excuse this somewhat graphic, and possibly morbid, post but I think it might help give us some perspective on campfires, etc. Also please know that I am trying to be as respectful on this subject as I possibly can. TIA.>

    When a body is cremated at a funeral home, etc., the heat is regulated to be from approx. 1400 to 2100 degrees Farenheit. It takes about an hour to cremate a 100-lb body. Seems to me, this is way-y-y-y hotter than any campfire our jp could whip up... And the oven for a cremation is lined with special bricks, and it is powered by diesel or by natural or propane gas; it is strictly controlled as to time, etc., etc., as well as the control by State and Federal laws. And even then, as we know, fragments are left behind. <end>

    So, maybe I'm way off, but seems to me, there should be fairly significant remains left from a campfire -- at least some bone fragments and teeth. I have no idea how long a campfire would have to burn to accomplish this, etc., etc.

    Hope this helps...
    Last edited by borndem; 09-17-2011 at 09:42 PM. Reason: Add sentence for explanation.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Magdalyn View Post
    That's my understanding too. And it still takes more than an hour at that temp. I think the average temp of a campfire is 500 degrees (932 F).

    It's not that you can't burn the body, I just don't think you could burn the bones into little bitty bits at 932. And yeah, I've read the stench is horrific.

    ETA: It says it takes 2-2 1/2 hours at the cremation temps. http://www.nfda.org/planning-a-funer...ation/160.html
    In the Alicia DeBolt case, the perp used gasoline. Poured it over her and left the scene. They found her so badly burned they couldn't recognize her, but much was left including tissue and clothing. (He poured the gasoline on specific parts, I believe, to try and destroy any of "his" evidence being on her. The sick $astard.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Knox View Post
    Good one, Knox. Also illustrates the reason for the painstaking process used in the excavation.
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    Quote Originally Posted by hollyblue View Post
    In the Alicia DeBolt case, the perp used gasoline. Poured it over her and left the scene. They found her so badly burned they couldn't recognize her, but much was left including tissue and clothing. (He poured the gasoline on specific parts, I believe, to try and destroy any of "his" evidence being on her. The sick $astard.
    Do you mean she was so badly burned she there weren't any whole pieces left or that she was unrecognizable as a human in any way? Long bones gone and everything? Just curious.

    ETA: Oops! I totally misread your post. You said MUCH was left of tissue and clothing. Sorry!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Knox View Post
    This is lame I know, but maybe they can link the wood to JP somehow.

    http://webcache.googleusercontent.co...&ct=clnk&gl=us
    The wood is being taken back to the lab. I'm hoping there are parts of the wood that the fire didn't reach..only the outside burned...and it could contain some DNA. Hope... Surely they will test for gasoline, etc also.

    Actually, I think this is pretty strange, not to find any burnt remains of clothing, buttons, etc. Since no bones were found at all...or we're being told that, it certainly seems to me a body would have been transported....or buried nearby. Would dogs be able to detect a body in a cooler if it was used for the charred remains?

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    My sister and I were just discussing.

    Could be that he buried her somewhere without identifying clothing, jewelry, other evidence, then drove 10-15 miles or some distance away and then started this fire to burn clothing & other evidence. He may have then buried the charred stuff here, which may have had her blood, fluid, hair on it. Thus the dogs scenting remains.

    ETA: Such a sad, demoralizing end for a beautiful life, no matter what he did.
    Last edited by motappin; 09-17-2011 at 10:11 PM. Reason: adding comment


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    Fire would make your hands red too getting to close to it and all. I wonder what took the search 10 to 15 miles away? And where is that exactly? What did Abbott say that he knew other than he felt strongly to tell the LE. Suspicious activity.

    If this was a Josh site they have cleared, I wonder if they found fragments of clothes, blanket? I can see him dumping her then going back in the rental car to finish the job up. Burn something that had DNA on it. Creep.

    There is still a chance that there were other items that we don't know about nor the LE until tested. Hope we hear the final word on that.
    Last edited by Dr. Know?; 09-17-2011 at 10:25 PM. Reason: spellin & punctuation

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    Quote Originally Posted by bessie View Post
    Good one, Knox. Also illustrates the reason for the painstaking process used in the excavation.
    You know, I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm a former dental assistant and I didn't even consider that even if teeth were gone, crowns, bridges and some fillings could survive those temps. Doh!

    We are trained on how to do charting and read it, though most of the time the dentist does the charting. (i.e. When you see a dentist for the first time, he 'charts' your existing restorations--draws out where your fillings and crowns are--fillings are drawn out in their exact shape. And when you get new dental work done, they chart that too.)

    They use a combination of your most recent x-rays along with your dental charting to make an ID. So .... they don't necessarily need the tooth to identify someone.

    If she was burned, here's hoping she had some dental work.

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    I wonder, with the slow pace of the search, all the sifting, etc. if the police had an idea that they were more likely looking for burned evidence, not necessarily a complete body. Could be much more here than meets the eye. They would be careful and sift anyway I'm sure, but it seems like they may have known they were looking for smaller pieces. I hope the continued searching yields more.

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