Earlier this week, investigators seeking the remains of possible murder victim Donnie Izzett Jr. said the quest was like searching for a “needle in a haystack” that would take “a miracle” to succeed.
On Thursday, a needle was found, a miracle occurred — apparently, anyway.
“They have found some items that look promising — a high probability of human bone,” said District Attorney investigator Truett Simmons on Friday. “We’re not going to know for certain till we send it off to experts.”
Archaeologists digging in Fernwood discovered what appear to be charred human bone fragments at the site where Izzett was believed to have been shot to death in May 1995 at age 19.
No one was ever arrested, but this month Izzett’s estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Shane Guenther, formerly of Fernwood and now of Bremerton, Wash.
Attempts by the Enterprise-Journal to contact Guenther or his attorney, Cynthia H. Speetjens of Madison, were unsuccessful.
Izzett’s mother, Debra Izzett Skelley of Maryland, learned of the find Friday morning when she stopped by the guest house where the archaeologists were staying.
“When I got in there they just started hugging me and holding me and told me they were very confident,” Skelley said at the scene Friday. “Of course, it has to be tested.”
Archaeologist Lynn Funkhouser of MRS Consultants in Tuscaloosa, Ala., said, “We have three burned fragmentary osseous remains. One clearly displays trabecular or spongy bone. The other two I would like to wait to say until we have confirmation from a secondary specialist. I feel comfortable and confident in saying they’re very probably human.”
The remains were at the surface of the ground under grass where a “burn event” had taken place.
After the remains were found, “we approached the site as though it’s a potential crime scene,” Funkhouser said, noting workers switched to finer screens to sift dirt and will screen previously dug soil as well.
They are also looking at two other spots nearby that appear to have been burned.
Verifying the remains are human will require a specialist in that field. Determining that they belong to Izzett is “much trickier,” Funkhouser said.
“The remains were deliberately fragmented, and they (perpetrators) attempted to collect them,” Funkhouser said.
An eyewitness has told investigators that Izzett was shot three times and his body burned on the remote, partially wooded Fernwood property.
Simmons said finding the remains increases the DA’s ability to file criminal charges, which so far have been withheld for lack of evidence.
“I feel like we will be able to proceed without identification (of Izzett), but we will take every possible step to identify the remains,” Simmons said.
This is the third dig at the site, and Skelley said she sensed all along her son was buried here. She remembers standing by a tree in 2017 and picking up an object from the ground that turned out to be a horseshoe.
That’s the spot where remains were found.
Her attorneys say finding the remains confirms the witness’s story.
“It confirms in our opinion that the allegations in our complaint are true and correct,” said McComb attorney Ronnie Whittington. “It confirms or illustrates the mental anguish and suffering that a fine mother has experienced for 25 years.”
Added attorney Bill Goodwin, “This just proves what the witness said, step by step. That young man could not have know if he had not been here. His veracity is proved at every step.”
Simmons credited Skelley for her unflagging determination to solve the crime. She took over the investigation when Baltimore officials gave up, she located the eyewitness and she funded the current dig.
“Sometimes you don’t know what’s going to fall out of a tree unless you shake it,” Simmons said. “Without her we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
The archaeologists were expected to conclude their work today, and the District Attorney’s office will take charge of sending the remains for further testing, which could take days or weeks.