The badly decomposed, weighted-down body of a woman found early Friday afternoon in the Gunnison River has been taken to the Montrose Memorial Hospital where authorities will attempt to identify it in the next few days.
The body, found in a Mesa County section of the river just north of the Delta County line, had been weighted down with a piece of railroad iron attached to a rope tied around the woman’s pelvic area, according to Mesa County Dist. Atty. Terrance Farina.
Farina said that because of these circumstances, authorities are assuming foul play was involved in the woman’s death and several Mesa County sheriff officers and Grand Junction policemen took part in an investigation at the scene Friday.
The body was so badly decomposed that Farina and other law enforcement officials refused to speculate on how old the woman was, how long she had been in the river and whether the body was one of three young Grand Junction women who have disappeared in the last six months.
The four men who discovered the body are members of a Denver & Rio Grande railroad maintenance crew. They said the woman’s facial features had been obliterated but added the figure of the body, only partially clothed, led them to believe it was that of a young woman.
Grand Junction police have been investigating the disappearances of Denise Oliverson, 24, who was last seen riding a bicycle in town April 6, and Lind Miracle, 24, and Patricia Botham, 25, neighbor women on the 1900 block Ouray who vanished Aug. 23. Mrs. Miracle’s two young children also disappeared with their mother.
Over the weekend the body found yesterday is being frozen at Montrose Memorial Hospital. Dr. Thomas Canfield, a forensic pathologist, will then examine the body in an attempt to identify it and determine the cause of death. Farina said the examination would probably occur Monday or Tuesday.
The body was discovered about 1:30 p.m. Friday. It was spotted in a willow patch in the Gunnison River about a mile below the Bridgeport bridge by Albert Cesario, Larry Rowe, Bill James and Bill Stone, all of Delta, who had been replacing ties on the railroad tracks which parallel the river.
This area is so close to the Delta County line that in the initial confusion the first law enforcement official to arrive at the scene was Delta County Undersheriff Sonny Hayden.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that we have a murder,” Hayden said. “There was a piece of railroad iron tied to the body. It didn’t float down there from Delta County.”
Farina said an “angle bar,” used to hold railroad ties together, was the piece of iron attached to the body.
A number of angle bars and other equipment used by railroad maintenance crews were stacked near the spot in the river [where] the body was found. Members of the railroad maintenance crew estimated that an angle bar weighs about 15 to 30 pounds.
One of the men who discovered the body, Larry Row, said, “It was in about 14 inches of water, I guess, in a little eddy in the willows, We wouldn’t have seen it, except we went to see what smelled so bad.”
Another of the railroad employees, Albert Cesario, said, “We followed the smell to it. It ain’t pretty.”
The four railroaders said the body was nude except for a blouse or dress which appeared to have floated over the head. The woman’s arms were extended over her head, but not tied, the men said.
By mid-afternoon Friday the special Mesa County mobile lab van had arrived at the scene to aid officers in an about three-hour initial investigation. Also at the scene were Mesa County Deputy Coroners Dr. Randy Rogers and Dr. Fred Brown.
Heading the investigation into the woman’s death are Sheriff Officers Milo Vig and Bob Silva. Vig said Friday night he did not wish to comment on any aspect of the investigation, saying “We don’t know what we’ve got here.”
Farina said there was “a lot of investigation” at the scene.
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