LOGAN — The uncle of a missing five-year-old girl is facing a charge of aggravated murder in her disappearance, and his attorney tells KSL he gave police information that led investigators to her body.
Investigators say DNA and other evidence found near the home of Elizabeth Shelley connected him to her death. Late Wednesday, officers were seen setting up equipment and conducting a search on property not far from the young girl’s home.
In a press conference at Logan Police Headquarters, Police Chief Gary Jensen confirmed they negotiated a deal with Whipple where he would tell investigators where the girl’s body was, and in return, they would take the death penalty off the table.
Jensen says, “We were provided a map of an area where we discovered human remains. It was a little after two o’clock when we were able to find and confirm human remains.”
The area is roughly half a block away from Shelley’s home, in an area that had been searched before.
“It’s a wooded area. It’s a very overgrown area. It’s hard to believe that we’d been through that area and were unable to find her,” Jensen adds.
Whipple’s attorney tells KSL he had covered her body with sticks and debris. Investigators say there is one key thing that is still missing.
Jensen says, “We don’t have motive, at this point. Again, this isn’t over with. The investigation is ongoing. We still have a lot of things to sift through.”
Whipple’s attorney, Shannon Demler, says he doesn’t know the motive, either.
“No. We didn’t get into a lot of that. Mainly, this morning was focused on talking and what best to do in the situation he was in,” Demler says.
Prosecutors charged Alexander Whipple, 21, with aggravated murder as well as child kidnapping, obstructing justice and abuse or desecration of a dead human body.
According to a probable cause statement filed in support of the charges, police found evidence including a broken knife, potentially with blood on the blade, that matched knives kept in Elizabeth “Lizzy” Shelley’s home, and Jensen told reporters the home was missing a knife. There was also a white PVC pipe and a black plastic garden barrier that were seized after investigators identified what appeared to be blood on both items.
“Today’s filing is a significant step in a process. We’re still working very hard to attempt to find Lizzy,” Jensen said at a morning press conference, choking up while reading the charges in a news conference Wednesday.
Investigators also located a possibly blood-stained teal skirt with white lace not far from the knife and other evidence that matched the description of what Lizzy was wearing when she disappeared.
Police requested a rapid DNA test with the Utah Attorney’s General Office. Jensen said swabs of blood found on the knife, a watch belonging to Alex Whipple, and Whipple’s sweatshirt all matched Lizzy’s DNA profile. The red substance on the PVC pipe, which included a partial palm print, matched Alex Whipple’s right palm, police said.
The probable cause statement, authored by Detective Matt Woods, said when Lizzy’s mother, Jessica Whipple, woke up Saturday morning, she found the front door of her home wide open and discovered both Lizzy and Jessica’s brother, Alex Whipple, were missing the morning after she’d told Whipple he could stay on their couch. She woke her boyfriend, Detrich Black, next, and they searched both inside and outside the residence briefly, then called police.
According to the probable cause statement, Jessica Whipple told police her brother’s skateboard and cell phone were left at the residence. She said he did not have a car and usually walked or used his skateboard to get around.
The probable cause statement says once Alex Whipple was arrested and alone in an interview room, police observed him “licking his hands and trying to wipe his hands clean. The decision was made to place Alexander back into handcuffs to preserve any evidence that may be on his hands.”
Police said Alex Whipple initially denied having been at his sister’s home the night before Lizzy disappeared, but admitted he was there after being confronted with inconsistencies.
“Alexander did not admit he was responsible [for the disappearance] but he also never denied he was responsible,” Woods wrote in the probable cause statement.
Whipple had an “on again, off again” type of relationship with his parents, according to Demler. The probable cause statement says Whipple claimed he tends to black out and do criminal things when he’s drunk, however, Demler says he doesn’t believe drugs or alcohol were factors in this crime. He guesses that mental illness may have had something to do with it.
“He’s very emotional. He’s very broken down. He’s struggling as anyone would be in his situation, but, he’s very emotional and very remorseful,” says Demler.
People who live near the home where Lizzy was last seen alive sobbed as they watched police surround the crime scene. Many of them say they just can’t figure out why anyone would want to kill a little girl.
“Honestly, it makes you sick to your stomach,” says Roseanna Taylor, “Especially when you hear that a family member could do something like that to another family member. I think that’s the hardest thing to understand.”
Colden Glenn was searching near the scene when police swarmed in to close the area off. He calls Lizzy’s murder “malicious.”
“It’s excruciating and almost damning knowing it happened in this community,” he says.
(Contributing: Paul Nelson)
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