Cadaver dogs search for remains in Izzett case

A cadaver dog and handler search for human remains in Fernwood on Monday morning in connection with the 1995 disappearance of Donald Izzett.

A search involving cadaver dogs and archaeologists resumed in Fernwood Monday for the remains of a Maryland man who is believed to have been killed in Pike County 25 years ago.

Donald Izzett disappeared in May 1995 at the age of 19, and efforts to reopen the cold case have come to Pike County in recent years.

The search initially focused on a McComb neighborhood, then moved to Fernwood, following information from a supposed eyewitness to the disposal of Izzett’s body.

Izzett’s mother, Debra Skelley, is paying for the team of cadaver dogs and excavators in the renewed search effort that’s taking place in a secluded Fernwood neighborhood. A previous search funded by the District Attorney’s office turned up inconclusive evidence.

Archaeologists excavated the ground where burn piles in a shady field used to smolder — the same place where Izzett’s body was believed to have been burned. After removing a thin layer of grass to expose bare earth, two cadaver dogs roamed the area, with one apparently focusing on an excavated area.

Skelley said Monday afternoon that rain delayed search efforts, which were expected to resume Tuesday morning.

A recently released podcast about the case, “Someone Knows Something: Season 6” by Canadian investigative journalist David Ridgen, included interviews with people allegedly connected  to the case, including Kyle Barnes, who said he took part in the disposal of Izzett’s body in Fernwood.

Barnes said in the podcast that Izzett’s ex-boyfriend, Shane Guenther, killed Izzett and enlisted Barnes to help him dispose of the body by burning it on Guenther’s family land.

Guenther settled a wrongful death civil suit in Pike County Circuit Court with Skelley for an undisclosed amount.   

Skelley said she hopes this week’s search will bring a turning point in the case.

An archaeological dig in May 2019 produced samples that one expert said contained no human remains, while another expert said the samples contained burned bone. Rigden sent the samples to cadaver dog handlers Kim Cooper of Ottawa, Canada, and Mary Cable of Reno, Nev., both of whom said their dogs indicated the presence of human remains.

Skelley has done much of the legwork on the case herself. She said she received a traffic citation for her son from Buckeye, Ariz., called police there and learned he was cited while driving a car registered to Guenther. She also tracked down Barnes, who had previously never been questioned about the case.

She’s looking for closure and justice, which she says has been elusive for far too long.

“I knew it couldnt’ have been a couple of weeks after my son was missing, I sat up straight in bed and told my husband at the time that Donnie was dead,” she said. “He told me I was freaking crazy. ... I had dreams — many, many, many dreams — that my son was calling me. He said, ‘I’m right here, I’m right here, I’m in the woods and it’s cold. ... I get on my hands and knees and keep digging and digging and I can never reach him. I had the same dreams many, many times.”

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