Link Sludge lagoon searched for body of missing girl Wednesday, March 30, 2005 By LISA CORYELL Staff Writer HAMILTON - In the chilly morning hours yesterday, a crew of heavy equipment operators and a cadre of state police investigators assembled on the banks of a township sludge pit in hopes of solving a 25-year-old murder and returning a daughter's body to her family. For almost two decades, police have believed an inoperative lagoon at the township's wastewater treatment plant held the body of Karen Zendrosky, a 16-year-old Bordentown Township girl who disappeared from a Hamilton bowling alley in 1979. Acting on data gleaned from a 2003 radar scan, they focused their search yesterday on three spots near the far bank of the 2-acre expanse of murky water near Hobson Avenue off South Broad Street. The search yielded no evidence, but investigators are hopeful that as it continues, their watery excavation will yield the clues they need to crack the long-cold case. "It would be really nice to end this case after all these years of this family not knowing what happened to their kid," said Donna Fontana, a state police forensic anthropologist. Zendrosky's family declined to comment on yesterday's search. It was about seven years after Zendrosky's Oct. 25 disappearance that police began hearing rumors she had been killed in the wooded area behind the sludge lagoon and dumped into the pit's wastewater. The names of several suspects, all Hamilton men in their early 20s, also were circulated. "We know there were at least two, possibly three people who were there," said Lt. William Sykes, who is overseeing the state police investigation. "This was their party spot back then. "We think she was there and something went awry, whether she was uncooperative or whether they tried to force themselves on her, something happened and she ended up dead in there. The word on the street is this is where she's at." Repeated interrogations of the suspects over the years have yielded no hard evidence and surface searches of the pit have been equally unsuccessful. But still the rumors persisted. Frustrated police have been at a loss. "We don't have anything to substantiate the talk. We don't have a body. What we want to do is get sufficient evidence to link up everything that has been told to us," Sykes said. In the fall of 2003, with funding from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the state police commissioned an underwater radar search of the lagoon. Using a floating ground-penetrating radar device, scientists recorded anomalies in the sludge layers that could indicate human remains. Three spots of interest were recorded, Sykes said. "But we didn't have the money or the ability to do anything with the information," he said, adding it costs about $250,000 per hole to excavate. Their luck turned when two groups of heavy equipment operators offered to donate their services. Fletcher Creamer and Son Inc., based in Hackensack and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825 Training Center in Dayton spent nine hours excavating the first hole yesterday. Using a metal pipe to cordon off a 10-foot section of the lagoon, the workers pumped water and sludge into a tuck. Once filled, the truck's mucky contents were run through filters in search of human remains. It was slow work, given the thickness of the sludge, and by twilight nothing had been found, Fontana said. But workers were not discouraged. "We really didn't get down deep enough today," said Lenny DiGilio, lead engineer for Creamer and Son. "We have about two more feet to go before we get to whatever it is that was picked up on the radar. If there's anything in that first hole we'll find it (Wednesday)." Both groups said yesterday's dig was a radical departure from their usual work moving ground for large construction projects. They said they donated their services in the spirit of community service and in the hopes of bringing closure to a grieving family. Sykes said police want that and more. "Clearly closure is a driving factor for us. It's our desire to get this girl out of here," Sykes said. "But it is also our goal to further this case. We're working toward the arrest and conviction of whoever did this."