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Lori Hacking's body found in the landfill
In this photo taken from a KUTV Channel 2 helicopter, the searchers sift through debris at the Salt Lake County Landfill, where Lori Hacking’s remains were discovered. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune)Two months, one week and five days after Lori Kay Soares Hacking was reported missing, her remains were found Friday, wrapped in plastic garbage bags among mounds of trash.
The discovery, made about 8:20 a.m. at the Salt Lake County Landfill, strengthens the case against Lori’s husband, Mark Hacking, charged with murder and obstruction of justice in her July 19 disappearance.
But it also brings a sense of closure to Lori’s friends and relatives, and a sense of relief to searchers, some of whom choked back tears after the body was found.
The remains, described by Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse as not intact and “heavily decomposed,” were positively identified by medical examiners Friday afternoon using dental records.
The search for Lori Hacking comes to an end (PDF, 796KB)The cause and manner of death, however, remained under investigation.
Police had been searching the landfill since mid-July, shortly after Mark Hacking told police his 27-year-old wife failed to return from an early morning jog in City Creek Canyon.
He later allegedly admitted that he shot his wife in the head as she slept and disposed of her body in a Dumpster near the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute, where he worked as an orderly.
The first phase of the landfill search, which lasted more than 20 days, employed cadaver dogs from the Duchesne County Sheriff’s Office and processed about half of the 4,300 tons of garbage estimated to have been collected the day of July 19 and early July 20. The searches were conducted at night, when temperatures were cool enough for the dogs to work.
The second phase, which began Sept. 14, involved police officers and firefighters sifting through the trash with rakes. About 20 officers have searched about 300 tons of garbage a day, 10 hours a day, four days a week.
The garbage surrounding the body was not among that searched earlier by dogs, said Dinse.
Searchers at the Salt Lake County Landfill gather around an area where Lori Hacking’s body was found by a volunteer Friday. (Al Hartmann/The Salt Lake Tribune)Police knew in recent weeks they were getting closer to the area in which the remains might be found because they found envelopes bearing addresses near the University of Utah’s Research Park, where the neuropsychiatric institute is located.
Immediately following the discovery Friday, police erected a white tent over the remains. Detectives, crime lab technicians and investigators from the state Office of the Medical Examiner remained at the scene for hours, searching the surrounding area for additional evidence.
Dinse was also there as part of a trip to thank the searchers for their continuing efforts. He stayed for more than four hours as the scene was processed.
“This is an emotional day,” he said. “There were some tears at that location . . . Landfill searches are historically unsuccessful.”
Lori’s family members, in a statement released Friday, expressed thanks to those “who have searched so long and so hard under such difficult and unpleasant circumstances to bring closure to our nightmare.”
Mark Hacking’s family released a similar statement.
Dinse said the searchers will stop working in the landfill, even though the .22-caliber rifle Mark Hacking allegedly used to kill Lori has not been found.
Police believe they have recovered most of Lori’s remains. Asked whether it would be possible to determine whether she was pregnant, as relatives had claimed, Dinse said he believed it would be virtually impossible.
“This has been an exceptional case, to say the least,” he said.
Deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney Robert Stott said the discovery made for a “good day” for prosecutors.
“It’s a great day for [Lori’s] family. Now they know the final resting place of their daughter is not at the bottom of a landfill.”
On the day she was reported missing, authorities almost immediately doubted Mark Hacking’s account of his wife’s disappearance. Blood was found at the couple’s apartment, as well as in Lori’s Chrysler Sebring. The car was found parked at the entrance to Memory Grove Park, and police later said the seat was pushed too far back for someone of Lori’s height.
Two days later, it was revealed that Mark Hacking had not graduated from the University of Utah and had not been accepted to medical school at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, as he had told friends and relatives. The couple was preparing to move to North Carolina within days after Lori disappeared.
Detectives also learned that Mark Hacking had been purchasing a new mattress in a South Salt Lake furniture store about the same time he reported his wife missing.
Police recovered a mattress, minus its pillow top, in a Dumpster a half-mile from the Hackings’ apartment behind a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ward. Tags on the mattress matched box springs in the Hackings’ apartment. Detectives believe Mark Hacking used a hunting knife to cut the blood-stained pillow top off of the mattress.
On July 24, he told his brothers that Lori had confronted him about his deceptions the night of July 18, and the two had argued. He said he had admitted lying about medical school, according to a probable-cause statement accompanying criminal charges filed against him.
After the argument, Lori went to bed, and he played Nintendo for a while and did some packing. He then “came across” his .22-caliber rifle and shot her as she was sleeping, according to the charges.
Prosecutors believe he killed her to avoid detection of his deceptions.
Police arrested Mark Hacking on Aug. 2 and booked him into the Salt Lake County Jail, where he remained Friday on $1 million bail. He reportedly learned of the discovery of his wife’s body from a fellow inmate, who saw it on a jail TV set.
In the weeks following Mark Hacking’s arrest, Lori’s family held a memorial service, bought a burial plot and started a scholarship fund in her name at the University of Utah’s business school.
So far that scholarship, which will help women students in difficult situations, contains more than $75,000.
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For the weary volunteers, grisly search was personal
Bud Stanford, left, operations manager at the county landfill, and Romney Stewart, executive director of the landfill, talk to reporters Friday about the painstaking search for Lori Hacking’s remains. (Paul Fraughton/The Salt Lake Tribune)Friday started like any other day, the 12th 10-hour shift searchers planned to log at the Salt Lake County Landfill.
From time to time, the searchers, probing with hand rakes through 300 tons of garbage a day, would calmly ask an on-scene detective to come take a look at something they had found that might be of interest.
But on Friday, that calm was shattered by shouts indicating a significant find—human remains, discovered by Salt Lake City police Sgt. J.R. Nelson.
“I pulled this group of trash out of the row and as I did it, I pulled apart a part of a bag and hair came out of the bag,” Nelson said. “I thought I had just hit another bag of trash from a barber shop that had hair in it.
“I made a closer look and saw a jawbone with teeth,” he said. “My immediate reaction was that it appeared to be human. I called the detective, Jim Prior, to come over and verify. I said something like, ‘I think I found something.’”
Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse talks to reporters Friday. “This is an emotional day,” he said. “There were some tears at that location . . . Landfill searches are historically unsuccessful.” (Paul Fraughton/The Salt Lake Tribune)A number of searchers approached the area before someone reminded them it was now a crime scene, said Salt Lake City police officer John Lundgren, who was probing a row of garbage nearby.
Within hours, the remains were identified as those of Lori Hacking, the 27-year-old Salt Lake City woman allegedly shot to death by her husband, Mark Hacking, on July 19.
“This morning was certainly different,” Lundgren said. “We knew that we had something. It’s pretty unmistakable, human remains.”
It was the find Lundgren, Nelson and their colleagues were hoping for—not so they could escape the blowing dust and stench of trash, but so Lori’s relatives and friends could reclaim the woman they loved and give her a proper burial.
The find was emotional for searchers as well as others working at the landfill, said Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse.
“I can tell you there were tears,” he said.
The search has been “very smelly, very dirty, hot,” said police spokesman Phil Eslinger, who spent two weeks on the search before he had to resume duties as spokesman.
Eslinger said he put a nail through the top of his shoe on the second day of the search, despite wearing boots with steel toes and steel plates. “There's plenty of dangers.”
He was not injured, he said, and had been immunized for tetanus and hepatitis A and B.
Lori Hacking“It was a very, extremely tough job,” said Nelson, a 25-year veteran. “I didn’t know how much longer I was going to be able to do it.”
He said it was the “luck of the draw” that he was the one to find Lori’s body.
“I don’t think I’m any kind of a hero,” he said. “But being able to assist this family and put some closure on this is what I was out there for.”
Like the other searchers, Eslinger said he volunteered for “personal reasons.”
Lundgren echoed that sentiment, saying thoughts of his own family and sympathy for the Soares and Hacking families prompted him to sign up.
“I’ve got a couple of baby girls,” he said.
Lundgren brought music headphones with him to help pass the time.
“After a while, you get used to the smell.”
Now that Lori’s remains have been found, Lundgren said the primary emotion among searchers is relief for her relatives.
Nelson said he participated in the search because he has a sister and daughter.
“I would hate to have [a landfill] as their final resting place,” he said. “That was the reason I was out there. I couldn’t imagine [Lori’s] parents having to go through that the rest of their life.”