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Landfill search continues for missing ASU professor

MCSO officials say new evidence led investigators to the landfill where they found evidence of foul play, but Chae's body has yet to have been located.

PHOENIX — The homicide investigation that led detectives to a landfill in Surprise is on its second day according to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. MCSO began the investigation on March 25, 2020. 

They say four days later, detectives assumed the investigation was a homicide. MCSO detectives believe Junseok Chae, who went missing earlier this year, is the victim of this homicide investigation.

Chae is a professor at Arizona State University and is an associate dean at the Fulton School of Engineering and went missing earlier this year. The ongoing investigation led detectives to the Northwest Regional Landfill where they found evidence of a crime.

MCSO officials say new evidence led investigators to the landfill where they found evidence of foul play, but Chae's body has yet to have been located. 

Investigators will not say why they believe Chae's disappearance is a homicide or what they are searching for at the landfill.

Former special investigations and forensics commanders Isabella Maldonado says landfill investigations are some of the most challenging cases to investigate. 

Over the years, there have been a number of high profile investigations involving landfill searches including the 2009 disappearance of then eight-month-old baby Gabriel of Tempe

In 2011, Glendale investigators searched for missing 5-year-old Jehessy Shockley of Glendale and cadaver dogs eventually uncovered evidence of decomposition in the Butterfield landfill after searching for more than three months for the little girl’s body.

In the 2017 disappearance of Christine Mustafa, investigators searched for a landfill for months, but never found her body. 

"It takes a lot of time and has to be done very carefully and takes a lot of manpower," says Maldonado.

The retired commander says landfill searches can take investigators weeks to months to find what they're looking for often due to the vast scope of the areas and sifting through layers of trash. 

"You're only working off where you think (evidence) might be, so you start off with a primary target area and then secondary and the search may expand and spread out." She says the likelihood of investigators finding evidence is low. "It certainly is possible and has happened before but not to get anyone's hopes up but it isn't the most common outcome." 

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