Human remains found in upper Fryingpan Valley spurs investigation
A decomposed body discovered last month by two Texas teenagers hiking in the vicinity of the Lake Chapman Campground is being examined to determine the identity, authorities said late last week.
It is too early to determine foul play or any the nature of the death, said Ron Ryan, Pitkin County undersheriff. The body was located in Pitkin County in the Fryingpan Valley and within a 10-mile radius of where Dorothy L. Jenkins went missing five years ago, he said.
Jenkins “immediately came to mind for us” when the Sheriff’s Office got the call, Ryan said Friday, and they are looking to see if there is a connection.
The Pitkin County Coroner’s Office also is working the case, he said.
“The forensic pathologist that the coroner’s department uses has a resource for these type of remains,” Ryan said, “and it’s going to take about six weeks to completely examine the remains and reconstruct them, and that’s what they’re working on now.”
Authorities are unable to say what the body’s sex is at this time.
Jenkins, 57, was reported missing Aug. 18, 2014, from the Burnt Mountain area, which is in the vicinity of the Elk Wallow campground on the North Fork of the Fryingpan River and Woods Lake to the north. The Burnt Mountain peak is about 2 miles north of the Pitkin County boundary and is located in Eagle County.
Jenkins was camping with a man who told authorities she left the campsite at 2 p.m. Aug. 17 and did not return. Later that month, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, citing a lack of information, suspended its search for the woman but said the case would remain under investigation.
“You can’t get around the fact that we don’t have missing people all the time, and we don’t recover human remains unidentified all the time,” Ryan said Friday. “We are certainly looking to see if these are connected.”
Pitkin County authorities also have been in contact with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office about the matter, Ryan said.
Nearly three weeks have passed since 19-year-olds Jacob Lovell and Angel Sandavol, both of Belton, Texas, were hiking Aug. 14 through some rugged terrain near Frying Pan Road, roughly 10 miles above Ruedi Reservoir, when they stumbled across the body. They were on a fishing and camping trip with family from Texas and Pennsylvania at the time.
“When we later met, (Jacob) was a white as a ghost,” said Jacob’s father, John, on Friday. “He said he had found a body.”
The party, who had been camping in the upper Fryingpan backcountry, tracked down a campground host at Chapman, who alerted some workers for the Holy Cross utility who were in the area at the time. There is no cellphone coverage in the area.
“They notified Holy Cross, who had radio communication with their dispatcher, who notified us,” Ryan said, “and that’s when our investigator went to do an initial assessment, because a lot of times, what looks like human remains is bear, because bear bones look very much like human bones unless you know what you’re looking for.
“Ultimately, they did find a skull and they found clothing, and then what was clearly human remains and not animal remains.”
How long the body remains have been in that area is a question that cannot be answered, Ryan said.
“There’s no exact way of knowing because the environment dictates the rate of decomposition,” he said, explaining that the area where the body was found gets a lot of snow and “we believe … the bones would continue to move downward with that snow in the snowmelt cycles over how many years the remains were there.”
The Lake Chapman Campground is located at an elevation of nearly 9,000 feet above sea level.
Both Jacob Lovell’s father and uncle said the body appeared to be small, based on what they were told by the two teens.
“When the body decomposes to the point that it’s almost completely bones, anything else along with it would be exposed to elements and has its own rate of decomposition,” Ryan said. “Clothing literally starts to degrade … and that’s certainly the case here, too. We have some mostly complete clothes, some clothes that are completely degraded down to zippers. … There are shoes, but nothing specific to a gender.”
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