MINERVA - State Police have begun an effort to clear and excavate an empty half-acre lot off Wilson Road in an effort to uncover the remains of June Collard, who was allegedly killed by her husband Thomas A. Collard here 30 years ago.
Law enforcement officials are focusing their efforts on the site at the former home of Thomas Collard at 76 Wilson Road after a statement from Collard, 62, revealed the likely location of June's body, police said.
Collard, formerly a resident of Olmstedville and who has been living in Samson, Ala. for the past 16 years, recently confessed to killing his wife in November 1980 and dumping her lifeless body out a kitchen window into a hole dug for a septic system.
He then covered the hole until spring when, his statement said, he burned brush in the hole, dumped some lime over the remains, bulldozed the hole, and built an addition to his house over it to conceal it.
The home at 76 Wilson Road has since burned down, and the site is littered with garbage and debris.
Collard has been arrested under the charge of second-degree murder and is incarcerated at Essex County Jail until his case is presented to a grand jury. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge.
In his confession, Collard said June went to his home and the two got into an argument, he hit her and she fell through a door and hit a hot water tank, breaking it. He then disposed of her body, according to the confession, authorities said.
Investigator Scott Heggelke and Lieutenant Patrick Ryan of State Police Troop B in Ray Brook said Aug. 2 police will be combing through soil on the Collard property for any signs of June's remains. Roughly 15 troopers and investigators joined members of the Minerva Highway Department to begin work at the site Monday morning.
"We have had outstanding assistance and are making progress," said Heggelke. "We are hoping to establish the footprint of the house that once stood here and go from there."
Complicating the search, officials said, is the household waste, junk metal and other garbage littering the site.
"The terrain we are working with is very difficult," Ryan said.
Crews removed truck loads of garbage this week before breaking ground Monday. They will then begin the lengthy process of painstakingly screening dirt and scrutinizing it in search of 30-year-old evidence.
"If this is indeed the site of the murder, we are very optimistic that we will find something," said Heggelke.
District Attorney Kristy Sprague said she is confident she will have a case and even a conviction without a body, but hopes the search is successful.
"We will continue with grand jury proceedings with or without a body," she said. "I hope for the family, however, we can get a body back to them for a proper burial."
Minerva officials said they are pleased to see this case approach the possibility of closure after 30 years.
"It has been in the back of everyone's minds since it happened," said Highway Superintendent Bruce McGinn. "Minerva residents are all very curious about the investigation and hope to find some sort of answers."