Bone in murder probe ‘unidentifiable,’ cops say

Nearly a year after a hiker in Utah stumbled upon it, a small piece of human skull that piqued the interest of investigators looking into Paige Birgfeld’s disappearance remains a mystery.

But while questions remain about the roughly silver-dollar-sized bone, Grand County (Utah) Sheriff James Nyland said he’s confident about one thing:  who it didn’t belong to.

“It didn’t appear to be recent enough to be from any of these homicides,” said Nyland, referring to Birgfeld’s case and the murder of Leann Emry, a Washington woman whose partial remains were found in March near Moab. Today marks two years since Birgfeld was last seen alive.

The bone in question was returned to Grand County this past spring after it had been tested at the FBI’s laboratory in Quantico, Va. Nyland said the FBI couldn’t extract DNA because of the bone’s age. He didn’t offer an age estimate.

“It’s not identifiable,” he said. “It was found at the bottom of a dry wash (in Bryson Canyon), so it could have come out of the Bookcliffs.”

No other bones submitted by Grand County were tested at the FBI lab, Nyland said.

Mesa County Sheriff’s Department investigators spent several days searching in Utah in late July 2008 after the bone was found by a hiker, who picked it up and brought it to Grand Junction. It was eventually handed over to the Utah Medical Examiner’s Office.

Authorities have said it’s illegal to move any suspected human remains.

Mesa County law enforcement officials still think about Birgfeld, a mother of three children, whenever news breaks about the recovery of human remains in the region. Most recently, the June 14 recovery of a dismembered body in a Glenwood Springs apple orchard had authorities wondering if it might be Birgfeld. Instead, it was a missing Aurora woman, 38-year-old Janine Ann Johler.

Birgfeld, 34, an escort known to clients as “Carrie,” was last heard from while driving back to her Grand Junction home the evening of June 28, 2007, after spending the day with her first husband, Howard Beigler of Aurora.

Beigler and Birgfeld’s second husband, Rob Dixon, were cleared in October 2007 of involvement in Birgfeld’s disappearance. At the same time, authorities named Pear Park mechanic Lester Ralph Jones as the lone suspect in the case.

No arrests have been made.

While Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey said investigators are waiting to hear back on several items sent out for testing to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, there have been no recent new leads. District Attorney Pete Hautzinger last year raised the prospect of presenting the case to a Mesa County grand jury, but made no commitments.

The proceedings are secret under state law.

“That seems like a logical next step in the absence of new developments,” Hilkey said of a grand jury probe.


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