Woman's disappearance still a mystery one year after remains discovered

By David Hedges, Publisher

Police don't know any more about what killed a Spencer woman who was missing for seven years than they did a year ago, when her remains were found along a rural road just before Christmas.

In the year that has passed since that discovery, even a forensic expert from the Smithsonian Institution has not been able to determine what killed Christian Dawn Starcher Seabolt.

But the authorities say it was definitely a homicide.

Seabolt left her mother's apartment in downtown Spencer on the evening of Aug. 31, 2002 to get a pack of cigarettes and never returned. She was 18 at the time.

In the eight years since that evening, the investigation has led investigators to several dead ends.

State Police responding to tips have drained ponds to look for her body and used cadaver dogs to search areas where they thought she might have been buried. A psychic with a track record of helping solve crimes was consulted.

During the same time, several stories circulated about what happened to her, according to Sgt. Brad Snodgrass of the State Police detachment in Spencer.

One of the stories was that her body was fed to hogs. Another was that she was ground up in a wood chipper. Another story was that her body was placed in a vehicle sent to a car crusher in Ohio.

"There's been a lot of time spent following up these stories, and a lot of time wasted, but we didn't know what might have happened to her at the time," Snodgrass said.

The investigation got its first big break Dec. 16 of last year, when two hunters from Logan County came upon something in the Groundhog Ridge area near Creston in Wirt County, not far from the Roane and Calhoun county line.

That's where the skeletal remains of a human were found in a pine thicket about 25 feet from the edge of the road.

Dental records indicated the remains were those of the missing woman, but little else was revealed.

At that point State Police decided to take things to the next level.

The remains were sent to a forensic anthropologist from the Smithsonian Institution.

Dr. Douglas Owsley is a nationally recognized expert who identified the first victim of serial killer Jeffery Dahmer. He also worked on the Branch Davidian case in Waco, Texas, and the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center in New York, just to name a few.

"He's top notch and you couldn't find a better guy than him," Snodgrass said. "We were pleased to be able to get his input on this case."

Owsley did positively confirm the remains were those of Seabolt, using dental records and other information from her medical records, including the presence of bone spurs.

Although he was able to make a positive identification, Snodgrass said Owsley was not able to provide police with the cause of death.

"He wasn't able to determine the exact cause of death," Snodgrass said, "but he was able to determine it was a homicide because of certain physical evidence at the scene."

Snodgrass said he did not want to disclose details of the evidence for fear it might compromise the investigation.

The discovery of the remains does provide police with DNA that could be useful down the road.

"Now that we have DNA samples," Snodgrass said, "we will send that to the lab and try to match it with some of the things that have been collected at various times during the investigation."

At least half a dozen officers have headed up the investigation since the case began, with many others lending assistance.

After he came to the Spencer detachment and inherited the case, Snodgrass said he was surprised to see the volume of information on hand.

"There were two or three file boxes full," he said. "We didn't even have enough binders to put it all in."

Snodgrass said he has worked on organizing and reviewing what has already been collected, and he hopes to pick up where others left off.

"It's been investigated exhaustively," he said. "We're going to continue that. There's been times when the investigation has gotten cold, especially right before the body was found, but there are still people we need to talk to, or talk to again."

Since the remains were found in Wirt County, Snodgrass said officers from both Wirt and Roane are investigating the case, with the assistance of Wirt County prosecuting attorney Leslie Maze.

Even after so much time has gone by, Snodgrass remains optimistic the case can be solved, and he is asking for the public's help.

"One piece of information could lead to something that might solve the whole thing," he said.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact State Police in Spencer at 304-927-0950 or Elizabeth at 304-275-8961.


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