May 5, 2011: Missing woman search resumes

Photo by Dean Humphrey—A Mesa County Sheriff investigative team searches an empty lot Wednesday on the northwest corner of Logos Court and 23 Road.

Near the end of a six-hour search over ground that was covered nearly four years ago in the disappearance of Grand Junction mother Paige Birgfeld, something caught someone’s eye.

A line of a dozen searchers stomping east abruptly stopped and stared. Several gathered around Mesa County Sheriff’s Sgt. Henry Stoffel as he poked at a white, dime-shaped object sitting in the caked dirt west of 23 Road and a stone’s throw south of Interstate 70.

“It’s a rock,” Stoffel announced Wednesday with a tired grin.

They pressed on along the barren ground, which was home to more prairie dog mounds than vegetation.

Stoffel declined comment when asked if anything of interest to Birgfeld’s case was found Wednesday. Nor would he reveal what prompted a group of investigators, search-and-rescue volunteers and representatives of the Mesa County Coroner’s office to search two fields, stretching west roughly a quarter mile from 23 Road, north of Logos Court.

They started around 8 a.m. and wrapped up around 2 p.m.

Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Heather Benjamin said the search was the result of “developments” in the ongoing investigation of Birgfeld’s case.

Benjamin said they intend to search the same general area again, depending largely on the availability of volunteers, but she didn’t indicate when.

Mesa County Coroner’s investigator Kim Hollingshead said four to five small bone fragments were collected Wednesday for additional analysis — each was roughly one to four inches long — but he suspected they were animal remains. Some 20 fragments or larger bones were unearthed, all were dead rodents, birds or goats, Hollingshead said.

Hollingshead said while items of clothing were found, none matched descriptions provided by investigators to searchers at the start of the day.

Stoffel did not specify what they were looking for.

In the afternoon, Stoffel and company recovered a weathered, brown leather shoe. Stoffel expressed doubt it was linked to Birgfeld, but he removed it from the scene.

The fields that they searched Wednesday run just north of the parking lot at 727 23 Road, where Birgfeld’s Ford Focus was found burning on the night on July 1, 2007. Bloodhounds later tracked a scent south from the parking lot, leading to Bob Scott RV’s parts and service facility, 2302 Grand Park Drive, the former employer of Lester Ralph Jones, 60.

Jones, a mechanic, remains the lone named suspect in Birgfeld’s disappearance. Birgfeld, 34, was reported missing by family on June 28, 2007.

Frank Birgfeld, the father of Paige Birgfeld, said his son, Craig, was involved in a search of the same field at least twice in the weeks after his daughter disappeared. Stoffel confirmed the area was searched in 2007.

Frank Birgfeld said he learned about Wednesday’s effort from Grand Junction media queries, adding he and his family remain “shut off” by the Sheriff’s Department with respect to developments in the investigation.

He said he was “encouraged” Wednesday.

“While we’ve heard this is an active investigation, this is the first tangible activity we’ve seen,” Frank Birgfeld said. “They’re getting out of the office, which is something unique for this case.”

The fields searched Wednesday include a 17.5-acre parcel owned by James R. Marsh, with a mailing address in Las Vegas, according to Mesa County Assessor’s Office records. Another 19-acre stretch is owned by Logos Inc., 707 Arrowest Road, unit A, in Grand Junction. The owner of a third parcel wasn’t immediately clear.

As searchers walked up and down the fields, media representatives followed in their tracks and watched as authorities briefly stopped, dug and on most occasions found items such as weathered tarp or animal fragments. Most of it was discarded.

“You never give up,” Stoffel said.


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