MINERVA -- Six 10-hour days of digging have yielded bones police believe are those of a Minerva woman murdered 30 years ago.
Late Tuesday morning, the bones were unearthed at the 76 Wilson Road site in Minerva where Thomas Collard is believed to have killed his estranged wife, June Collard, in November 1980.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon at the Minerva fire house, State Police Troop B Commander Maj. Richard Smith said an anthropologist has confirmed the remains are human.
Smith said the bones, the number and type of which he would not identify, were removed with permission from Essex County Coroner Paul Connery of Ticonderoga.
They will be analyzed at the State Police Crime Lab in Albany to see if a DNA match with Mrs. Collard can be established.
“After members of Troop B unearthed what we believe to be the skeletal remains, we slowed down the investigation and began digging by hand,” Smith said.
“We are excavating for more remains.”
He said the bones most likely to provide DNA information would be a femur or teeth.
The bones were found in a 1,200-square-foot area where the Collards’ mobile home was located 30 years ago.
Mr. Collard, who was living in Alabama until his arrest on July 20, allegedly confessed to police recently that he had killed his wife.
He told police he had punched his estranged wife in the face and that she died when her head hit a water heater.
He said he threw her body out their kitchen window into a hole that had been dug for a sewer line and covered it over. Mr. Collard said that the next spring he uncovered the body, put lime on it and set it on fire.
In his statement to police, he allegedly told them where to search for the body, and the dig began Aug. 2.
Smith said the location of the bones “was part of the parcel where the family’s trailer was located. It was behind where that (mobile home) would have been.”
Mr. Collard is charged with second-degree murder and is awaiting an appearance before an Essex County grand jury. District Attorney Kristy Sprague, who was at the news conference, said a date hasn’t been set yet for the grand-jury presentation.
Sprague said the find could be a benefit to the prosecution if the bones are determined to be Mrs. Collard’s.
“It makes my case better. Having forensic evidence at trial is valuable. But we cannot confirm at this time it was June Collard’s remains.”
Sprague stressed that Mr. Collard is innocent until prove guilty and said she did not want to make prejudicial statements on the case.
Smith said police will keep digging at the site until they believe all evidence has been collected.
“We have more work to do. We hope we’re able to get some closure on this matter.”
He said Mrs. Collard’s family had been notified of what they found.
State Police Lt. Scott Heggelke said the bones were found in an area four to seven feet below the surface of the ground.
Police praised the State Department of Transportation and the Minerva Town Highway Department for helping with the dig and Fuller Excavation of Keeseville and Batease Excavating of Queensbury for the loan of equipment.
Police set up numerous canopy tents at the lot where the mobile home was once located and used those as protection from the sun during the search.
Even so, it was hot, muggy and tedious work, Heggelke said, for the 15 investigators who had to sift through the soil.
“Everyone working here is filthy, dirty, sweaty. They had no real finds until (Tuesday). Now they don’t want to go home. They want to keep looking.”
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