By JOSHUA WOLFSON
Star-Tribune staff writer
Friday, May 23, 2008 7:56 AM MDT
PAVILLION -- They've labored for two days under a baking sun and
another two days in wind and rain.
They've painstakingly sifted through mounds of rocky Wyoming soil,
searching for evidence that might solve a mystery that began before
some of them were even born.
The work isn't easy, but it's providing valuable experience for
eight University of Wyoming anthropology students. It might also
offer new clues into the disappearance of a woman and her sons
nearly three decades ago.
"The ability to actually see and deal with an investigation is
something you can't teach inside a classroom," said Rick Weathermon,
senior research scientist for UW's anthropology department. "It's
something you have to experience. For some of these folks, it is the
first real introduction to something they plan to do with the rest
of their lives."
Weathermon and his students are helping state and Fremont County
investigators dig up a swath of sage desert at a home near Pavillion
once owned by Gerald Lee Uden.
Uden's ex-wife,Virginia, and her two sons have not been seen since
Sept. 12, 1980, when they left Riverton to meet him at his home.
Authorities have long suspected Virginia Uden might have been
murdered, but there has never been an arrest in the case. However,
the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation has recently
uncovered new information that prompted the agency to organize the
"We are looking for anything that might indicate what happened to
them," Fremont County sheriff's Sgt. Jerry Evagelatos said Thursday.
Authorities turned to Weathermon and his students for assistance.
Weathermon said he has asked to help out on criminal cases a few
times a year on average.
Chandra Thompson, a student of Weathermon who already graduated,
said she and her classmates eagerly agreed to help out with the
"It's nice to be involved in something that is important," she said.
The students are digging in a 40- by 40-foot section of land that
served as a feeding area for hogs at the time of Virginia Uden's
disappearance, Evagelatos said. So far, the work hasn't uncovered
human remains, but the students have found some items that appear
foreign to the soil in that area.
The dig began Monday under a blazing sun and dry conditions. The
weather began to turn Wednesday, and by Thursday, sleet had begun to
A tent was erected over the site to keep the area dry and allow work
The effort doesn't resemble the high-tech investigations featured on
television shows like "CSI." Instead, the students use tools
available at most hardware stores -- shovels, brooms, screens and
The team divided the dig site into 96 sections, then laboriously
excavated 10 to 12 inches of dirt from each one. Using screens, the
students sifted through the dirt for clues.
"We are treating the whole area as a crime scene," Evagelatos
said. "And each individual piece that's found gets bagged, is noted
where it came from and is photographed."
The students have worked each day from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 in the
evening. Some have taken up temporary residence at the home of the
Fremont County coroner. Others are staying at motels in Riverton.
They've committed to spending up to two weeks on the dig, entirely
on a volunteer basis.
What the effort will mean for the case remains to be seen. Some of
the items recovered during the dig -- which authorities did not
detail -- will be sent to a UW laboratory for analysis.
"We don't know if they are any help to us or not," Evagelatos said.
Reach Joshua Wolfson at (307) 266-0582 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Last we knew: Investigators and University of Wyoming students began
digging at the former home of a man whose ex-wife disappeared nearly
28 years ago.
The latest: The team has not located human remains, but has dug up
some unidentified items.
What's next: The items will be sent to a UW laboratory for more