Bone-Sniffing K-9s

By: Alice Barr
By: Alice Barr

The search is on once again to find the rest of an unidentified skeleton discovered south of Freeport in rural Stephenson County in January and to look for signs of foul play. This time investigators have a new partner to help sniff out clues.
"Back in mid-January, some hunters found some human skeletal remains in the area behind me here and our objective today is to try to locate all the remains. Due to terrain, and conditions and animals, all of the skeletal remains have not been located yet," says Stephenson County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Keith Eikstadt.
That's where man's best friend comes in.
"The dogs we're working today are cadaver dogs. They're trained to find human remains," says Ellen Ponall, President and trainer for the Midwest K-9 Emergency Response Team.
Though the initial discovery was made back in January, investigators say they had to wait for the thaw to bring out the dogs.
"Under the ice and heavy snow conditions would make it harder because it's an early case, for the dogs to find the human remains under that. Working conditions are just better now for the dogs," says Ponall.
Nine dogs sniffed the area Sunday. Half came all the way from Milwaukee to lend their skills to the search. The canines are in constant training to detect specific scents. One of the most important steps is teaching them to discern human bones from animal.
The dogs found a few small badly decayed human bones Sunday but no real clues. Chief Deputy Eikstadt is unsure whether they'll take the dogs out again. For now he says it's a waiting game.
"Until DNA comes back we can't positively identify because it's just skeletal remains and there's no way from skeletal remains to positively I.D. somebody, except through DNA," says Eikstadt.
Those results may not be ready until next January.
Investigators believe the remains may be those of a missing man who was last seen in Forreston in the summer of 2005. The sheriff's department and state police think the body lay undiscovered for more than a year, so the dates would match. However, they won't know for sure until they get those D.N.A. results back. As of now, investigators say there are no signs of foul play.


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