An unidentified woman’s body found in the Gunnison River Friday afternoon had been dead at least three weeks, according to an investigator of the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office.
But Milo Vig, who is heading the sheriff’s office investigation in the case, said the exact time of death and the body’s identity would remain mysteries until after a medical examination of the corpse early this week.
The badly decomposed body was discovered in a Mesa County section of the river just north of the Delta County line and was weighted down by a piece of railroad iron attached to rope tied around the woman’s pelvic area.
Law enforcement officials are assuming the woman was murdered.
Vig said he was told by Dr. Thomas Canfield, a Montrose forensic pathologist who saw the body Friday, that the woman had been dead for “not less than” three weeks.
Vig also said he was told by Canfield it was impossible to immediately gauge how much longer the woman may have been dead because of difficulty determining the effects of weather and the water.
Canfield will perform a medical autopsy on the body early this week, probably Monday, Vig said. Canfield could not be reached in Montrose Saturday for comment.
Shortly after the body was found Friday, it was taken to Montrose Memorial Hospital where it was frozen.
Vig had refused to speculate on whether the body was one of three Grand Junction women who have disappeared in the last six months.
Grand Junction police have been investigating the disappearances of Denise Oliverson, 24, who was last seen riding a bicycle in town April 6, and Patricia Botham, 25, and Linda Miracle, 25, neighbor women on the 1900 block of Ouray who vanished Aug. 23. Mrs. Miracles’ two young children also disappeared with their mother.
Undersheriff Hod Hutchinson said Saturday night law officers had no definite indications the body was one of the three women.
Vig, Sheriff Dick Williams, Sheriff’s Investigator Bob Silva, and three other law officers returned Saturday afternoon to the spot where the body was discovered, 18 miles southeast of Grand Junction and about four miles off U.S. 50.
Silva said the group spent about four hours combing the river bed and the railroad tracks which parallel the river for one mile in each direction. But Silva said little physical evidence was found.
And Silva said of Friday’s investigation at the scene, “Actually, about the only thing we gathered up was the body.”
The body was first spotted about 1:30 p.m. Friday by four members of a Denver and Rio Grande railroad maintenance crew.
The foreman of the crew, Albert Cesario, said he and his men had just arrived in the area to replace ties on the railroad track and discovered the body after following its smell.
Cesario said the railroad tracks in the area are only about 10-12 feet from the river bed. He said the last time his crew had been in the area was about a week-and-a-half ago. Cesario said he knew of no other railroad crew that had worked in the area between that time and Friday.
Stacks of the railroad iron like that used to weigh the body down are located near the spot the woman was found.
The railroad workers said the body’s facial features had been obliterated and that the woman was nude except for a blouse or dress which had floated over the head.
Vig said the body had decomposed so badly that an immediate medical examination of the body might have done more harm than good.
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