SUNBURY — Wood chips and other unexplained materials were found inside concrete basement walls of a Milton home searched by officials in June, a residence Sunbury Police believe could be the final resting place of Barbara Miller.
Sunbury Chief Tim Miller said when law enforcement dissected the walls they discovered what appeared to be wood chips. Chief Miller delivered several pieces of cement to two world-renowned forensic scientists who both confirmed wood chips were located inside the concrete pulled from the home along Front Street in Milton.
"We have discovered the presence of wood chips throughout the concrete walls as well as other discoveries that continue to confirm that we are definitely looking in the right place," Sunbury Chief Tim Miller said Monday.
"Obviously we seized a great deal of material, mostly being the concrete, that made up the basement walls. Those walls were constructed in a manner that makes it extremely difficult to penetrate them in our search for evidence," he said. "This process is proving to be painstakingly slow however, our team will chip away piece-by-piece for as long as it takes."
Barbara Miller was last seen by friends at a wedding June 30, 1989. Five days later, her estranged ex-boyfriend, Joseph Walter “Mike” Egan, reported her missing to Sunbury police. Egan, an ex-city detective, was no longer with the force at the time of Miller’s disappearance.
Police believe Barbara Miller was murdered. Her remains have never been found.
Chief Miller said he consulted with several general contractors who said there would be "absolutely no reason for wood chips in the cement," he said.
"Everyone I spoke to said it is suspicious to have wood chips in cement," Chief Miller said. "There is absolutely no logical reason for wood chips to be inside concrete."
Chief Miller would not comment on why he believed wood chips were important to the case.
However, one of Chief Miller's task force members, forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee, of West Haven, Conn., used modern science in 1989 and was able to help Connecticut police prosecute a murder case even though only fragments of a body were discovered.
In 1986, airline stewardess Helle Crafts of Newtown, Conn., disappeared and her husband was accused of killing her and disposing of the body by using a woodchipper. Lee showed jurors fragments of bone, hair and other evidence he was able to find and helped police ultimately prove the victim was murdered, despite her body never being found.
Chief Miller would not confirm if police are investigating the possible use of a woodchipper in the Barbara Miller case.
Sunbury police conducted the week-long dig at 751 N. Front St., Milton, beginning on June 7. Investigators removed concrete walls and soil from the home following leads Chief Miller received after reopening the case earlier this year. Eight cadaver dogs alerted investigators to human remains, which police believe could be those of Barbara Miller, either at the Milton home or in evidence collected and stored in an undisclosed secure location.
The Milton home was owned by former Northumberland County Judge Sam Ranck at the time of Barbara Miller's disappearance. One of the apartments at the duplex was rented by the late Cathy Reitenbach, the sister of Egan. Reitenbach died in January.
Chief Miller announced previously that Dr. William Bass, of Tennessee, had joined the task force, the second world-renowned forensic scientist to team with Sunbury police to examine the evidence. Bass and Lee join Chief Miller, Northumberland County Coroner James F. Kelley, Cpl. Travis Bremigen, Cpl. Brad Hare and officer Brad Slack on the investigative team.
Chief Miller announced Dr. Arpad Vass, of Tennessee, is also now on the investigative team.
"We have the best forensic anthropologist in the world in Dr. William Bass and if anyone can find a needle in a haystack it is him," Chief Miller said. "Also on board our team is one of the brightest of Dr. Bass’ former students, Dr. Arpad Vass. Vass has studied decomposition odor analysis, or DOA, which helps to analyze vapors that emanate from decomposing human remains. The two of them have been working together to deconstruct the walls microscopically."
Sunbury police and a state police forensic unit also entered the former Sunbury home of Barbara Miller nearly two weeks ago after Chief Miller said a sealed search warrant was served at 239 Penn St. Chief Miller, who is not related to Barbara Miller, declined to comment on what police were looking for at the home Barbara Miller lived in before her disappearance more than 28 years ago.
"We have received numerous requests from members of the public asking for an update in regard to any answers we have gleaned from that exhaustive search," Chief Miller said.
"We remain confident that our team will succeed. The puzzle is coming together and it is just a matter of time until we get our answers. I will continue to keep the public informed as much as possible in an effort to continue to be transparent."
Bremigen said he is optimistic about the investigation.
“Every day, a new piece of this puzzle is being uncovered," Bremigen said. "We are closer than you think."
Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Francis on Twitter @scarcella11.