By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer
PERRY TOWNSHIP - A single red rose stood in a muddy pit, a sign of Debbie Culberson's longing for her daughter, Carrie - and for the truth about how she died and what happened to her body.
Brown County Sheriff's Deputy Tim Whyte, with his partner Ferro, puts barrier tape across the driveway of the property on Fayetteville-Blanchester Road where local and federal investigators have been searching for the body of Carrie Culberson. Authorities ended their search Tuesday.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/GLENN HARTONG
Debbie Culberson placed the rose there Tuesday after investigators ended a 12-day search of a Brown County site where they had hoped to find Carrie Culberson's remains.
The rose and a small white evidence flag mark the four-foot-deep spot where investigators found a piece of clothing - something that a trio of Culberson's closest relatives all recognized as belonging to the 22-year-old Clinton County woman who vanished almost eight years ago. Her former boyfriend was convicted of killing her although her body was never found; she was legally declared dead in 1998 but her family still doesn't know how she died.
"We know that something of Carrie's was here ... we just feel Carrie's presence here," Debbie Culberson said after investigators allowed her, her other daughter and her ex-husband to spend a few moments reflecting at the excavation site on Fayetteville-Blanchester Road.
The scene inside the pole barn and its adjacent lean-to was "like a funeral," said John Dunn, Brown County Sheriff's chief deputy. "I became convinced her body wasn't in there and I wanted to know if the family felt that way, too ... They said they did. But in my opinion, there was a body there at one time. There are bodily fluids these dogs detected, and they got there somehow."
In an area where a Brown County cadaver-sniffing dog indicated the scent of human remains, investigators also retrieved six other items they won't describe, along with soil and water samples, from the site on Fayetteville-Blanchester Road. The items and the samples will be examined for traces of human remains, including bone fragments in case Carrie Culberson's body was pulverized, Dunn said. Test results are expected within two weeks.
Sheriff's deputies will continue guarding the search scene until the Brown County prosecutor's office directs otherwise, Sheriff Dwayne Wenninger said.
Meanwhile, police are following new leads that have surfaced since the search began, Dunn said. Some of the information is credible, he said - and it's possible the information could produce more clues and possibly another site to search for Carrie's remains.
"This isn't over," Dunn said. "I feel real positive about what we have been able to find so far. It's adding to the case."
In some spots, investigators dug 15 feet deep in search of Culberson's remains or any other evidence that could help unlock the mystery of what happened to her.
"I trust that law enforcement has uncovered all they can here," said Jennifer Branch, an attorney for the Culbersons. "They dug down to the bedrock. There's nowhere else to dig."
Branch said she and the family are grateful to all the agencies that have worked on the case: neighboring sheriff's, coroner's and prosecutor's offices, along with the Cincinnati office of the FBI.
"While the family is disappointed that Carrie is not here, they are encouraged that law enforcement is on the trail to finding her," Branch said.
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