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Aug. 21, 2019

Leave No Stone Unturned

Leave No Stone Unturned

Thanks to the many tips from podcast listeners, the searches for Susan and Evan continue.  Amid triple-digit temperatures, the search teams worked at 4 of our top places of interest.  You'll hear the details of our most recent searches and hear about one of our special helpers, Pink.

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Welcome to Secrets True Crime.  I am your host, Amber Sitton.  What is done in darkness will eventually come to light.  That is the purpose of this podcast...to shine light on the story of Susan Osborne and her 14 year old son Evan Chartrand. They vanished from their home in the tiny Alabama community of Holtville on Memorial Day in 2017.  They haven't been seen or heard from since and their bodies have not been found. This is episode 14 of a serial podcast and they are designed to be listened to in order. Listener discretion is advised.  This episode does not contain foul language and the subject matter may involve violence, sexual content, murder and adult themes.  It’s not suitable for younger listeners.  If you know or have known Jerry or knew Susan after she was married to Jerry, I want to hear from you.  Someone knows something.  Information you may think is small or insignificant could make a difference in this case and you can remain anonymous.  secretstruecrime@gmail.com


In past episodes, we’ve been asking for tips.  Michael gave some specific criteria for places that would be of interest to us in our search for Susan and Evan.  We asked and many of you delivered.  We have been researching and prioritizing the tips we received.  Once we identified which tips we wanted to look into first, we started the process that occurs before we ever set foot on the land.  We pour over aerial and topographic maps.  We are looking for points of access and the ease of access as well as considering how likely it would be to access the property without being seen. We have to identify and locate all the individual property owners and obtain their permission to access their property.  It is a tedious process with far more steps than you will want to hear.  It requires a great deal of planning and legwork before the search ever begins.  We identified our top 5 properties of interest and in the last 30 days, we have been tirelessly researching, planning and preparing to search these properties.  Michael has devoted countless hours to planning these searches. We’ve made some preliminary visits to scope out the locations over the last month but the searches began on Wednesday August 14th, 2019.  After all the work and preparation put into preparing for these searches, we were all really eager to get started.  I arrived in Wetumpka on Tuesday and checked into a local hotel.  I was so keyed up thinking about what all we needed to accomplish the next day, that I wasn’t able to sleep.  We all beat the sun getting up the next morning and were ready to work our plan.


After the initial visits we made to these 5 properties, we determined that having a human remains detection dog also often referred to as a cadaver dog on 3 of these properties could be beneficial.  Michael contacted Corporal  AJ Brasher and her son, Deputy Thomas Andrew Cleveland, both with Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.  They graciously agreed to bring Drew’s Human Remains Detection Dog, Pink to help us with those searches on Wednesday.  Pink is a beautiful 8 year old black lab who has quite an impressive resume of helping law enforcement locate human remains.  We met them at a property adjacent to the home that Susan and Evan lived in with Jerry.  As soon as we pulled up and I got out of my vehicle, I could hear Pink barking from inside the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office SUV.  She knew it was time to work and it appeared she was eager to join Drew and get started.  We decided to start at one of the other locations of interest and made the short drive to it.  We were anxious to begin these searches we’d been busy planning but our timing could have been better.  The temperature every day that we searched was over 100 degrees.  While the heat was miserable for everyone, it also impacted Pink as well.  Due to the extreme temperature, Pink could only search for 15 minutes at a time.  Once she began to pant, she was no longer breathing through her nose and wouldn’t have been able to detect the scent she was searching for.  


Before Drew let Pink out of their vehicle, he gave us some quick instructions.  He told us Pink is friendly and loves people.  He asked that we not pet her while she’s working so that she’s not distracted.  He asked that we let him and Pink lead the way and he said we could follow closely behind.  As Pink exited the vehicle, just as Drew predicted, she quickly gave each of us a warm greeting, took a small break of her own and then she was ready to work.  We followed Drew and Pink down a slope into the woods.  Pink ran ahead of the group just a bit, frequently putting her nose to the ground.  She found a basketball sized hole in the ground and it caught her interest for just a second.  Not because detected the scent of human remains but because she smelled an animal.  She stuck her head down in the hole for a few seconds and then she went right back to work.  We continued to make our way down the slope watching Pink work until we hit the 15 minute mark.  She was panting.  We all walked back to the car so that she could have some water and cool down in the air conditioning for awhile.  We repeated this process for the next 7 hours.  


I’ve always found search and rescue dogs fascinating.  I was a bit awestruck as I watched her work.  We came to a steep slope and we could see that there was a stream at the bottom.  We followed Pink further into the forest and explored the stream and the area surrounding it for a bit.  We covered the 1st property on our list and Pink didn’t find anything of interest.  It was time to move on to the next property.


We moved back to the parcels of land surrounding where Susan and Evan lived with Jerry. As Michael mentioned in a previous episode, in cases similar to this, an overwhelming number of victims bodies are discovered within 200 ft of the crime scene.  These properties fall within that 200 feet.   We’ve searched these properties before back in May and decided then that before we completely eliminated these properties, we wanted to return with a human remains detection dog.  There are numerous burn piles that are most likely from a former tenant who lived at one of these properties.  There is also a lot of uneven earth.  Along the property line that borders Jerry’s side and rear property line, there is a great deal of debris scattered around.  We found women’s clothing, shoes, children’s toys and countless household items.  Some of the items are weathered and there are some items that appear to be partially burned.  Hollie was with us during one of our prior searches and she pointed out a couple things that she recognized from Susan’s home.  Susan’s brother, Brian and his wife Melissa were with us on Wednesday for the search with Pink.  Being there so close to his sister and nephew’s former home and the likely place of their deaths took a visible toll on Brian but it was important to him to be there.  We located a small figurine of an angel with the head broken off.  This is one of the items that Hollie remembered belonging to Susan.  Brian couldn’t leave it.  He collected the angel and took it with him to his home in Michigan.  


Drew and Pink worked their way around the properties adjoining Jerry’s house.  As they walked near the property line shared with Jerry on one side, Pink found something of interest and she was approaching the line heading to the side of Jerry’s home.  Drew quickly called her back as he realized where she was headed.  Because she had to be stopped, it is unclear if something as simple as another animal caught her interest or if it was something more.  We spent hours at this location taking Pink out to work and letting her cool down and rest numerous times.  While these periods of rest were well deserved and necessary, Pink didn’t approve.  She clearly enjoys her job.  She would bark wanting to get back out of the vehicle to go again.  


The area behind Jerry’s property line is wooded and the underbrush is thick.  It was hard to manuvuer through the overgrowth and it was a slow process.  Also, Elmore County has spiders the size of small dogs and it’s not unusual to find large webs with multiple huge spiders. While I might be exaggerating on the size a tiny bit, they are huge and had even the largest of the men in the search party jumping around more than once.  When we searched this area previously, we found some womens clothing back in this heavily wooded area.  We wanted to run Pink through that section to see if she found anything of interest.  She had absolutely no interest in those pieces of clothing.  Because of the proximity of these properties to where Susan and Evan were last seen, we had Pink go over these areas pretty extensively but in the end, she didn’t indicate on anything here.   AJ and Drew did a demonstration for us.  The pulled out a box that they use for training.  They hid a human bone and then let Pink try to find it.  She located it very quickly and she sat down in front of it.  That is her signal and how she indicates to Drew that she has detected human remains.  It was time to let Pink rest for awhile and with the extreme heat, we all needed a break too.  We all congregated under some large shade trees.  This gave us time to chat with AJ and Drew to learn more about Pink and cadaver dogs in general.  I asked AJ how they train their dogs to locate human remains.  She told me that she’s been working an HRD Dog handler since 2011.   She said that to them and their sensitive noses, NOTHING else smells like human blood, tissue, bone and teeth. Not animal bones, not anything other than the real deal. She explained that they train with real specimens, because unlike other odors where there are pseudo scents available (such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, etc.) there is not a fake dead human scent.  So they have to train with the real deal!  She explained that they have been very fortunate to have made the acquaintance of Restore Life USA which is located in Tennessee.  They are a company that works with research specimens and they are very helpful in supplying them with training specimens.  She went on to explain that they also train with specimens of different ages.  She said that human remains that are 8 years old smell nothing like the remains of someone who recently passed.  She says this helps their dogs be able to successfully locate remains who have recently died as well as find those who’ve been missing for many years.  While human remains detection dogs receive some training with larger bones, they also train them with samples as small as teeth and they can even detect blood that is present even if the body is no longer there.

It was getting later in the day and we were running out of daylight.  We still had 2 more properties to search.  One was an old well and the other was some wooded acreage not too far from Susan, Evan and Jerry’s home.  To get to both on Wednesday, we needed to divide and conquer.  I went with AJ and Drew to search the acreage and Michael and his group went to search the well.


We received a lead about a large well on a property located very close to Jerry’s house.  We discussed it and decided this was a good potential lead that needed to check out.  We were told the well hadn’t been used in many years and that the house on the property had been vacant since well before Susan and Evan vanished.  Michael contacted the property owner who gave her consent for us to take a look at the well.  In July, we made our initial visit to this property.  We found the well at the back of the property and noticed immediately that the concrete cap had a hole cut in it.  It was about two feet across.  As we looked down into the well, we noticed it was lined in concrete, was about four feet across, and we could see water about 30 feet down.  As we looked at it, we could see that it was large enough that bodies could have been dropped inside.  What we couldn’t determine was how deep the water was.  Michael contacted a well driller in Headland, AL for advice.  The well driller was able to share some helpful information and recommendations for determining if there was anything in it below the water.


The well driller told us that with the well being lined in concrete and as large as described, it is most likely an old hand-dug well.  Those types of wells were limited to being about 50 feet deep at most, and primarily collected surface water rather than tapping the water table.  He recommended using a fish camera with built in lights that we could slowly lower into the well and see what might be below the waters surface.  He believed the water should be fairly clear and the camera’s lights would be able to penetrate enough to get a good image.

We obtained the type of camera he recommended.  It has a 100‘ roll of cable, both white and infrared LED lights, and a remote screen with a DVR.  Everyone crowded around to watch the screen as Michael lowered the camera into the well.  He discovered that the water is about 15’ deep.  Other than some leaves and insect larva that had obviously found their way in through the open cap, it was relatively clear all the way to the bottom.   As the camera neared the bottom, you could clearly make out the end of the large pipe that runs up the side of the well and to the old well pump.  Just under that pipe, we found the bottom of the well.  The bottom was covered in pine straw and leaves.   Michael was able to use the camera to move some of that out of the way so that you could see the sediment beneath.  Using the cable, he slowly moved the camera around the well, keeping it hovering above the bottom so that we could see anything that might be resting on the bottom of the well.  He was able to determine that there was nothing else in the well other than the plant matter that made it down the hole.  He then lowered the camera into the pine straw and leaves several times.  He used the wire probe on the end of the camera to move and penetrate the plant material to ensure nothing was hidden beneath it.  Based on Michael’s very thorough inspection, we were able to rule out the idea that Susan or Evan had been put down into the well.


While Michael was tackling the well, AJ, Drew, Pink and I were following up on another tip we received.  In July, I was contacted by a woman who after listening to Michael on the podcast, remembered something that happened awhile back.  She explained to me that she lives very near Jerry.  She sent me a screenshot of a map that showed her location.  It was close.  She told me that one afternoon, her son had been back into the woods on their property.  When he came back home, he told his parents that he could smell something dead in the woods.  He and his father went back outside and walked back to the woodline.  The odor was pretty strong so they walked further back into the woods in an attempt to locate the source of the smell.  The further they walked, the stronger the smell became.  They eventually got to the edge of their property.  The odor was stronger than ever but they didn’t see anything.  At this point, they decided it was likely a dead animal in the woods somewhere and they returned home.   My tipster couldn’t remember the timeframe but knew it was possible that it could coincide with the timeframe that Susan and Evan disappeared.  When her husband got home from work, she asked him if he could remember when it happened.  He did remember.  They smelled the odor on Father’s Day weekend in 2017 which would have been approximately 3 weeks after Susan and Evan vanished.  Michael and I made plans to take a look at this property within days of receiving the tip.  The property owner met us and led us into the woods beside his house.  The trees and brush were pretty thick here.  He led us to an old road which is right on the edge of his property line.  He told us that in 2017, the road wasn’t overgrown and was being regularly used by one of his neighbors.  The area on both sides of this road were low lying.  While they were damp, they weren’t holding a lot of water but the owner told us that there was often standing water here.  He went back home and left Michael and I to take a closer look around.  We did look around a bit but we didn’t want to trespass on any of the neighbors properties.  We wanted to contact each property owner for permission before proceeding any further.  Also, the areas that flood has thick green plants that would have concealed anything laying on the ground.  As we talked about it, we decided this would be a property that it would be a real benefit to have a cadaver dog present to help search.  As we stood there chatting, I saw movement in front of us to the left out of the corner of my eye.  We were startled to see a coyote run by about 30 feet in front of us.  AJ, Drew and Pink followed me to this property.  We’d been searching for hours so we sat in our vehicles for awhile with the air conditioning running to give ourselves and Pink a break.  Then we started to make our way back into the woods.  Right after we entered the woodline, Drew noticed what appeared to be a pile of ashes.  There was no evidence of a fire and it definitely isn’t a location you’d choose to build a fire.   He directed pink to the pile.  She walked over and sniffed the them but she expressed no interest.  Drew picked up a stick that he used to probe and dig through the pile.  He directed Pink to them again but after a quick smell, she still showed no interest.  We continued further back into the woods.  I pointed in the direction of the odor and Drew and Pink led the way.    We made our way to the old road with Pink exploring the whole way but nothing piqued her interest on the trip.  We crossed over onto the properties that Michael and I had been unable to explore during our first visit.  I heard a noise behind us and for a minute I thought the coyote was making another appearance but it was Michael.  By this time, he’d completed the search of the well and he caught up with us.  As we walked through the forest, we found a spot that grabbed everyone’s attention.  It was a sunken area of the forest floor that was approximately 6 ft long x 4ft wide.  The soil was bare.  There weren’t any plants on this one section of the ground.  The soil itself was very dark.  So dark that at first, we thought there had been a fire in that spot but after a closer look, we could see this wasn’t the case.  We could see that the soil was very loose, like you might see with a freshly tilled garden.  Drew started to step down on it but hesitated as he laughed a little and asked if we were going to pull him out if he started to sink into it.  He did sink but only by a few inches. We all bent down to get a closer look at it.  We probed into the dirt with a stick and were able to easily push and probe pretty deep into it.  There were no obstructions and no indication of anything solid in the ground beneath it.  Drew directed Pink to it but she again had no interest in the spot after smelling it.  He took the stick that had been used as a probe and offered it Pink for her to smell.  She didn’t have any interest in the stick either.  While we still can’t explain exactly what caused this area of the soil to be like this, but with the assistance of Pink we were able to eliminate it.  By this time, we’d covered the areas of interest on this property too and it was time for Pink get some rest and some well earned treats.  And time for me to thank my new found friends.  AJ, Drew and Pink don’t charge for their services.  It’s a labor of love and we are incredibly grateful for their help in what AJ very accurately described as Africa-hot temperatures paired with freakishly large spiders.  With their help, we were able to eliminate 4 of the top 5 places of interest on our tip list. We’d also like to thank the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office for allowing them to assist us.

While we didn’t find Susan and Evan as we’d hoped, by eliminating the 4 locations, we are that much closer to the right place.  


Thank you for listening to Secrets True Crime.  Join us next time as we continue our searches.  The 5th place of interest on our list is a big one.


If you have any information that could help in solving the disappearance of Susan Osborne and Evan Chartrand, please call the Elmore County Sheriffs Office at 334-567-5546.  You may also email me at secretstruecrime@gmail.com.   You can stay anonymous.  I want to say thank you to those who have contacted me with information and those who’ve reached out to encourage me.  Each of you has provided a tremendous amount of help and you are making a difference in this case.  Not only am I appreciative but Susan and Evan’s families are so thankful as well.   If you are enjoying this podcast, please let us know by giving us a 5-star rating and review in Apple Podcasts.   I’m active on social media and often share photos of Susan and Evan.  Follow Secrets True Crime on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  @secretscrime. This episode was co written by me and Michael Fleming.