DENVER – For more than three decades, a team of Colorado scientists have worked to help homicide detectives find secret graves. NecroSearch International has been part of some of the most high-profile murder mysteries in Colorado, including the recent adjudicated case of Kelsey Berreth.
Every year, homicide detectives reach across their blue line to rely on the expertise of the volunteer scientists. Board certified forensic anthropologist Diane France became a member of the exclusive group shortly after it formed.
“This whole idea of 'there has to be a better way' has been a common theme throughout our entire group’s history,” France told FOX31.
That better way brings together experts from more than a dozen disciplines to determine the best ways to excavate in the search for bodies. Part of the work involves the witness stand. Recently, France testified against now-convicted murderer Patrick Frazee.
Frazee’s fiancée, Kelsey Berreth, went missing over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2018. Woodland Park police knew who to call for help.
“We were contacted very early on,” France said.
In February 2019, NecroSearch International guided the grueling task of searching the Midway Landfill in Fountain in an attempt to locate human remains.
The group’s landfill expert got to work, using an algorithm he developed in hopes of narrowing down an area where Berreth’s remains were most likely to be found. But even a general search area still has tremendous challenges.
There are thousands and thousands of bones in a landfill, according to France. Most of the bones are not human. They are from human consumption of things like chicken and other animals. Determining human versus non-human is where France’s experience was needed.
At Woodland Park police headquarters, France examined bones brought in from the landfill.
“All of the bones that I saw there, and all the tissue that I saw there, was non-human,” she said.
The landfill search spanned about two months. Berreth has not been found, but it is possible her remains could still be at the landfill.
“Bad news is that landfills are incredibly expensive to search,” France explained. “It gets up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars very quickly.”
While France works for free, the heavy equipment used and time needed to search proved to be too much.
“As I understand it, they ran out of money and just couldn’t search for her anymore there,” France said.
Whether it’s the Berreth case or cases from decades ago, France says each case has resulted in some level of achievement because even if a body is not found, the unique team of 45 volunteers is always learning from success and setbacks.
“There’s a tremendous sense of family [in our group],” France said.
It’s a camaraderie of problem-solving experts working to find families closure and reminding homicidal perpetrators that justice will be served.