SHSU Students Aid in Montgomery County Body Search

A group from SHSU recently assisted the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office in Sam Houston State Forest in a search for human remains.
A group from SHSU recently assisted the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office in Sam Houston State Forest in a search for human remains.

Ten criminal justice and forensic science students from Sam Houston State University recently assisted the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office in a real-life search for human remains in the Sam Houston National Forest.

The students, representing the graduate and undergraduate programs, volunteered their time on Sept. 26 to search for skeletal remains after numerous bones were discovered by hunters on Forest Service Road 234 off Calvary Road near Lake Conroe. The bones were strewn over an area the size of half a football field, and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office needed assistance to do a meticulous line search of the area.

“To get out of the classroom and into the field was a great experience,” said student Kevin Derr. “It was great to see professionals at work and to get first-hand experiences with crime scene investigators, detectives and police officers. You get an idea of what you could be doing for the rest of your life.”

Students spent 3-1/2 hours as part of teams searching grids within a 300 square foot area. The line search involved scanning the ground, getting down on their hands and knees to search for evidence or cutting through thick brush with machetes to get a closer look. While students did not uncover any new bones, one student was assigned to a team that discovered additional evidence.

“It’s nice to be able to volunteer to help out,” said Graduate Student Angela Rippley. “They only had five to six officers, and they said it would have taken at least a day to search the same area. It is making their jobs a little easier. If it can help find who did this, it will help the family.”

This is not the first time that the Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science (STAFS) Facility has aided Montgomery County and other jurisdictions in crime cases. Last year, Director Dr. Joan Bytheway analyzed evidence in a Montgomery County homicide where a woman was killed, stuffed in a garbage can and burned. Dr. Bytheway reconstructed the skeleton – which consisted of 100-150 pieces – and found a fracture with tool marks on the skull.

The suspect, Robert Ellis Hinton, Jr., recently pled guilty to the crime and was sentenced to 30 years.

Dr. Bytheway also consults with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and Medical Examiner to determine if bones are human or animal and to analyze skeletal remains to determine age and sex of the victims and evidence of a crime. Dr. Bytheway and SHSU students also have participated in previous line searches for bodies in Montgomery County and were called into Houston County two years ago to find a missing woman. Students were able to retrieve rib bones in that case.

Among the students that participated in the line search were Jacob Filip, Brittany Cuello, Angela Rippley, Ashley Gallaway, Kevin Derr, Chelsea Ashley, Paula Alvers, Sam Narro, David Hoffpauir and SHSU Alumnus Stacie Gray.

“Some of them had never done it before,” said Dr. Bytheway, who was at the scene for two days. “They didn’t realize how meticulous the work is whether it is in the field or in the lab.”

The Montgomery County Sheriff Office said they found 20 bones during their search, but they have been unable to identify the victim. Dr. Bytheway is expected to help analyze the remains for the department.

Member of The Texas State University System