Dozens of state troopers and forensic anthropologists will return to a wooded area off Gilchrest Road in North Union, Fayette County, today to continue their search for the remains of a 7-year-old girl who disappeared from her Florida home 30 years ago.
The investigation into the disappearance of Jennifer Marteliz, who was last seen alive in Tampa on Nov. 15, 1982, revived several weeks ago when a woman named Anna Cummings sent a "lengthy email" to the Tampa police department describing a man who owned homes in Florida and Fayette County and who acted strangely around the time the girl went missing, police said.
In her message, Ms. Cummings described a neighbor named Steve Visnosky, who lived on Rankin Airshaft Road near Gilchrest Road, and who also owned a home in Tampa, about five blocks away from where Jennifer was last spotted.
Ms. Cummings, who was about 10 at the time, told police she remembered watching one day in 1982 as Mr. Visnosky unloaded a large plastic bag from the trunk of the large, brown car he sometimes drove from Florida to Pennsylvania. A similar car was reported to have been seen in the area where Jennifer was last spotted.
The next day, Ms. Cummings noticed that one of two "knee-deep holes" she played in near Mr. Visnosky's home had been filled in with dirt, according to an affidavit of probable cause supporting the search of the land where Ms. Cummings said Mr. Visnosky once lived and the properties of several adjacent neighbors.
She also remembered seeing "a picture of the missing girl ... and a news article referencing the missing girl affixed within Visnosky's household," according to the affidavit.
Court paperwork did not say what prompted Ms. Cummings to contact police this year, as opposed to earlier. She could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for the state police in Uniontown said he did not know what prompted her to come forward now, and Tampa police did not respond to a request for comment Thursday night.
Mr. Visnosky died in 1992, according to police, and neighbors said they did not remember him. They did, however, remember a family that lived on the property listed as Mr. Visnosky's address. The family kept to itself and neighbors said they often avoided the eccentric parents and their children.
The search "doesn't surprise anybody," said Joe Bierer, who has lived down the road from the search scene for several decades.
About 20 troopers, accompanied by 15 to 20 members of the forensic anthropology team from Mercyhurst College, arrived at the wooded area around noon Thursday to begin their search. For eight hours, they worked on a grid system to scan the areas where they thought they had the "highest probability" of finding bones based upon Ms. Cummings' memories, said Dennis Dirkmaat, who led the team from Mercyhurst.
Thursday's search yielded a few deer bones but no signs of human remains. Should a body have been deposited in the woods, Mr. Dirkmaat said he's confident his team would be able to identify the age and sex of the person to whom the bones belonged.
"I've worked on prehistoric Native American remains and after 600 years the bones were in great shape in this part of the country," he said. "I would expect that we would be able to find all of the bones that were present."
Several troopers remained at the scene overnight to "maintain its integrity," said Trooper Joseph Christy, a spokesman for the state police in Uniontown. The full team, aided once again by cadaver dogs, was expected to return early this morning to resume the search.
Liz Navratil: email@example.com, 412-263-1438, or on Twitter @LizNavratil.