Part 2: Exclusive Eyewitness News iTeam series, 'A family's search for closure'
At 7 a.m. in a private roadside park in Belpre, Ohio, the search begins anew for Leslie Marty.
“It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” said Lt. Greg Nangle of the Parkersburg Police Department, “and I won't forget the FBI's Evidence Recovery Team supervisor, he looked at me right at the initial start of the dig and he said, 'Greg if she's here, we're gonna find her.' "
Thirty-five years after she was kidnapped and murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Mark Hanna, a long-lost victim of violence's location is sought by investigators with information obtained by the Eyewitness News iTeam.
“I was initially skeptical, to say the least,” said Lt. Bryan Lockhart of the Washington County, Ohio, Sheriff's Office, “because we get that a lot in law enforcement in our career. People wanting help or maybe getting in this case, consideration for parole on a 35-year old homicide, essentially.”
After decades of silence, Hanna contacted Eyewitness News and came forward with information about where he buried Leslie in 1983.
The Parkersburg Police Department, Washington County, Ohio, Sheriff's Office and an FBI Evidence Recovery Team map out the park where Hanna said he hid his victim. Drone footage provided by the sheriff's office helped Hanna narrow down the search area, which he has not visited since the night he buried his ex-girlfriend.
Two FBI cadaver dogs separately hit on the same location, leaving detectives feeling confident this long-festering mystery would finally be solved.
“Those dogs, the previous day and the day of the dig, put us in a very confined area,” Nangle said. “And both dogs separately hit in the same area, which was phenomenal.”
For five hours, a backhoe dug an enormous hole. 60-feet long, by 35-feet wide and 6-feet deep.
But with each scoop of the bucket, the only thing brought to the surface was dirt. There was no sign of Leslie.
“We started in the general area we thought was most likely, based off what he told us where we were gonna find her,” Lockhart said. “As the morning went along and each scoop came out and we weren't finding anything, hope started to diminish a little, yes, if I'm being honest.
The team broke for a short lunch, and then resumed its time-consuming and detail-oriented work. But just minutes later, fading hopes for success were rekindled.
“The scoop that started it all, a border to a blanket, a silk border, came up on the bucket to the backhoe,” Nangle said. “And at that point we're like, 'Stop, stop!' That's the first thing we've seen today. That's not a rich, dark soil.”
The heavy equipment operator eased the bucket into the earth a second time and gently removed another scoopful of dirt. Investigators took a close look at what they had found.
“The next bucketful pulled out a piece of a blanket. The blanket had ripped,” Nangle said. “So as he pulled it up, he laid it down and the evidence recovery team began to number one, verify if this was a blanket. What do we have here? But, somehow a piece of the skeletal remains of Leslie Marty were inside that piece. And as we looked at it, it was identifiable to me that that is part of human remains. And at that point, it was a surreal moment because it dawned on us we have just found Leslie Marty.”
Human remains had been recovered. While evidence clearly pointed to Leslie, it took more than a week for dental records to confirm what investigators already knew. They had found the 20-year-old who was murdered in her youth - a mother, sister and daughter. The last piece of the puzzle over her final fate had been found.
“Before the remains were even taken out of the ground, we had the mother of Leslie Marty at the Parkersburg Police Department to let her know that her daughter had been located,” Nangle said. “That was huge for the officer that got to tell her that. That was huge for us. You know, anyone's that got children can relate to something like this.”
At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5, Eyewitness News will air the third part of this exclusive series. We talk with Leslie's mother and sister. They share their thoughts and feelings about finally finding their lost loved one and having the opportunity to bring her home.