SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A body believed to be a missing 5-year-old Utah girl was found Wednesday less than a block from her home, bringing a wide-ranging search to a grim close five days after the child was taken from her home and killed by her uncle, police said.
The body believed to be Elizabeth “Lizzy” Shelley was found hidden under trees and brush after 21-year-old Alex Whipple told his lawyer where he had hidden her, Logan Police Chief Gary Jensen said.
The discovery came hours after Whipple was charged with murder and other counts. He provided the map in exchange for prosecutors taking the death penalty off the table, Jensen said.
Jensen said the discovery was disappointing but “nevertheless is closure and helps us be able to now deal with the investigation and help the family through their grief.”
In a statement read by a victim’s advocate, the girl’s mother Jessica Whipple said: “There are not words to express the sadness and heartbreak we feel today. This did not end the way we wanted to do but in the sadness we are comforted by the effort people put in to find Lizzy. We would never have expected this outpouring of love and support. It was beautiful.”
The body was found after officers spent days combing the city set in a picturesque valley near the Idaho border about 80 miles north of Salt Lake City.
Crews previously searched the area where the body was buried but didn’t find her, Jensen said.
Alex Whipple’s attorney Shannon Demler said his client “knows he did something that’s inexcusable.”
“He wanted at least the family to know … she had passed away so that they could get some kind of closure,” Demler said.
Whipple hadn’t previously acknowledged involvement in his niece’s disappearance, but did tell police alcohol makes him “black out” and sometimes do “criminal things,” prosecutors said.
He alluded frequently to “how evil the world we live in is,” as he talked about his struggles as a child, according to court documents.
Whipple was charged with aggravated murder, child kidnapping, obstruction of justice and desecration of a human body, a charge that relates to steps taken to hide the body, Jensen said.
The child’s blood was found on Whipple’s watch and sweatshirt, authorities said, and his handprint was discovered on the PVC pipe. Nearby was a broken knife taken from the family’s kitchen bearing the blood of the girl.
A teal skirt with lace that she was last seen wearing was found “hastily buried” near the pipe and knife, the charges state.
The search for Lizzy began Saturday morning, when her frantic mother reported the girl’s bed was empty and the front door was wide open. Also missing was Alex Whipple, who had slept on the couch after a night of drinking with his sister and her boyfriend.
Jessica Whipple didn’t see her younger brother often but decided to help him when he asked her to pick him up, said Bill Whipple, their grandfather.
He said Alex Whipple had a difficult childhood but had never showed violent tendencies.
“I would never, ever in a million years have thought he was capable of harming such a cute little girl,” Bill Whipple said. “I knew he was a thief, but I never labeled him as a murderer.”
Alex Whipple’s mother left the family when he was young, leaving his father to raise three children alone while he worked as a truck driver. The young man spent time in foster homes and didn’t graduate from high school.
Police found him Saturday afternoon about 10 miles from the family home.
He had a pipe used for narcotics, a beer and a baseball bat, though it’s not thought to have been a weapon used on the girl, according to charging documents.
He had blood-colored stains on his pants and “filthy” hands that he attempted to lick clean, police said. After first denying he’d been at his sister’s house, he later said he left in the early morning for a walk alone.
Whipple has a criminal record that includes a 2016 assault, possession of a stolen vehicle and drug-related charges.
He had been on probation and making progress but began missing appointments at the beginning of the year and dropped out of touch in April, a probation agent said in court documents.
Alex Whipple is scheduled to make a court appearance Monday.
A full timeline of the search for Elizabeth:
According to Logan City police, the mother of Elizabeth Shelley said she invited her brother, Alex Whipple, to her house on Friday around 10:30 p.m. to drink beer and play video games, and they were all in the home at 2 a.m.
Court documents state Lizzy and her sister were already in bed when her brother arrived and the last time she saw them was around midnight.
“When they awoke the next morning a little after 9 a.m. they couldn’t find Elizabeth and Alex was no longer in the home,” said Logan City police. “They searched for a while and then contacted police.”
The call to Logan City police came in around 10 a.m. and an immediate search for both Whipple and Elizabeth started and a missing person’s report was released to citizens and the media.
Alex Whipple was located about 10 miles from his sister’s home, in a remote area of southwest Logan at about 3 p.m. on Saturday. He had a metal baseball bat tucked in his back pocket, hidden in his jacket along his back, drug paraphernalia, drugs, and an unopened can of beer.
Whipple was transported to Logan City Police Department where he made several inconsistent statements and lied about his whereabouts. Police said he has been uncooperative throughout the interrogation.
Multiple search warrants were obtained and executed throughout Saturday night and Sunday on several crime scenes. The evidence obtained from Alex Whipple was tested. Chief Jensen confirmed forensic evidence from Elizabeth Shelley.
Since then Chief Jensen said hundreds of tips poured into Logan City Police Department, some credible, some not, but they followed up on all that were relevant. Police and rescue crews spent thousands of man-hours searching for the young girl.
During a press conference held Monday, the family released the following statement:
“As a family, we are overwhelmed, scared, and sad at the recent tragic events that have touched our lives. We are grateful for all those that continue to search and help. We would like to thank law enforcement, volunteers, and all other agencies and businesses for their tireless efforts in helping us find our daughter.
Our family asks for privacy and respect during this difficult time and continue to hope for the safe return of our sweet girl Lizzy.”
Police continued to ask for help from the public by having residents in the surrounding areas check their property and any surveillance footage they might have.
A citizen sent a video to police showing Whipple walking alone about a block from his sister’s home at about 6:15 a.m. Saturday and was eventually located about 10 miles away in a remote area of southwest Logan.
Whipple appeared in court Tuesday afternoon where his attorney argued he should get normal bail because he hasn’t been officially charged but the judge denied the request.
His next court hearing is scheduled for June 3.
As the search for Elizabeth continued, an outpouring of support from the community poured in.
“We are overwhelmed by the continued support of this GREAT community. Many businesses continue to support our efforts in locating 5-year-old Elizabeth Jessica Shelley,” said Logan City Police. “Logan Police have assembled over 200 Local, State and Federal Police Officers. We also have dozens of Search and Rescue personnel assisting.”
Search teams continued their efforts over multiple locations in the valley throughout Tuesday and into Wednesday were the focus of the search shifted to a landfill in Logan.
As heavy presence continued at the landfill, Alex Whipple was officially charged with aggravated murder, child kidnapping, obstruction of justice and desecration of a human body.
Charging documents indicated they found blood evidence on Whipple that matched Elizabeth’s DNA and believe she has been killed by her uncle.
“There is evidence including Elizabeth’s blood found on a knife, Elizabeth’s blood found on Alexander, and Alexander’s partial right palm print found in the red substance on the PVC pipe to believe Alexander has committed the aggravated murder of Elizabeth Shelley even though her body has not yet been located at this time.”
“It is believed probable cause also exists for two counts of obstruction of justice due to the fact Alexander provided false information regarding material aspects of this investigation and that he attempted to conceal evidence”
“It is believed that probable cause exists for one count of desecration of a human
body because Elizabeth’s body has yet to be recovered and Alexander has taken substantial steps to move, remove, or conceal Elizabeth’s body.”
A statement was released by the Cache County Attorney:
“Today is a difficult day, our thoughts continue to be with Lizzy’s family. This tragic event has shaken our community. We are touched by the tremendous show of support from so many. We thank all those who have aided and who continue to aid in the search. The Cache County Attorney’s Office is committed to fighting for justice. Justice for Lizzy, her family, and our community. Charges were filed against Alex Whipple today and included aggravated murder, a capital felony, child kidnapping, a first-degree felony, two counts of obstructing justice, second-degree felonies, and abuse or desecration of a human body, a third-degree felony.”
A donation account has been set up at Zions Bank under Elizabeth Shelley Donation.
WHO IS ALEX WHIPPLE?
Whipple briefly worked at JBS Beef Plant until late 2018. An employee there described him as shy and quiet.
A background check for Whipple shows he was found guilty in Jan 2018 of theft by receiving stolen property, failure to stop at the command of an officer and DUI. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail with credit for the 113 days he had already served. A prison sentence of 0-5 years was suspended upon successful completion of probation.
A $25,000 warrant for his arrest was issued on April 29 for violating his probation.
Further research shows Whipple was found guilty of drug possession in 2017 and domestic violence assault in 2016.
Those who have information are asked to call police at 435-753-7555.