LUDINGTON, Mich. — The Ludington Police Department announced Wednesday morning that several different plant species have been identified from the mud samples taken off the shoes of Baby Kate’s father, Sean Phillips, and the information is a big step forward in the case.
Phillips was convicted last April of unlawful imprisonment in connection with his daughter’s disappearance on June 29, 2011.
After nearly two years of searching for Baby Kate, Chief Mark Barnett said the new botanical forensics information could help narrow down the search area, but right now investigators are focused on locating an area with the rare combination of plants, found in the mud samples, instead of finding the little girl’s remains.
In a letter, found on Phillips while in jail, he said he left the four-month-old infant in a “peaceful place.”
“On going examinations of the material found on Sean Phillips shoes are being conducted in an effort to determine the whereabouts of this ‘peaceful place,’” announced Chief Mark Barnett.
While investigators may not know where baby Kate is, thanks to help from Michigan State University and University of Michigan botany experts, investigators now know what kind of plant life may be around her. In other words, finding Baby Kate’s remains are like finding a needle in a haystack, except now, police might know exactly what kind of haystack they’re looking for.
“The location that would support all these elements is so rare and specific to the surrounding area that it’s only a matter of time before the exact location is found,” Chief Barnett promised.
They’re calling it a “botanical fingerprint” – a combination of natural elements found in the mud samples, like: red pine, white cedar, moss, algae, and even dune sand. But what caught the forensic experts’ attention most were two types of sedge called Carex Alantica and Carex Interior, which typically grow in two different types of soil.
“(Carex Atlantica) sedge is extremely rare and is only found in a few locations in the surrounding area,” Chief Barnett said. “The significance of this material is that it is now within the capability of law enforcement to scientifically determine where Sean (Philips) had been walking on the day that Baby Kate went missing.”
The problem, is that detectives and Dr. Frank Telewski of Michigan State University’s Forensic Biology department, who’s assisting in the investigation, have not been able to located the Carex Atlantica plant around Ludington.
Now, police are assembling a team of 50 to 150 volunteer plant experts and botany enthusiasts to help them search on June 28 and 29, 2013 – over the two year anniversary of Baby Kate’s disappearance.
“The Carex (Atlantica) fruit … are mature in June,” explains Dr. Telewski. “(At) the time of the disappearance the fruit were ripe and being shed, so that’s when (the seeds) were picked up on (Phillips’) shoes.
At the press conference, investigators said they are confident that if they can find the Carex Atlantica, and the other flora found in the mud samples, in the same area, the child’s remains will be close by.
“(The natural elements) don’t have to be all in the same exact spot,” Dr. Telewski said, “but they’re in a reasonable distance of each other.”
When asked why the media is just hearing about this update now, the panel said they have not been sitting idle, but rather the seed samples did not germinate as planned, making it more difficult to identify the species, and Michigan winters have played a part, too.
If you have botany experience, or can identify plant life and would like to help the Ludington Police Department, fill out the Botanical Search Team application at the Ludington City website by May 1. If you have seen Carex Atlantica in Mason County, call Detective Wells at the Ludington Police Department at 231-843-3425.
April Lange, Baby Kate’s grandmother, was at the press conference but declined comment.
Phillips is currently serving a 10 to 15 year prison sentence in Mason County.
Police have called this a homicide case. However, Phillips has not been charged with murder.