In July 2000, in a courthouse in rural Utah, a grisly tale of violent death and corpse mutilation unfolded. Witnesses recounted the events of October 25, 1998, when former federal drug informant and alleged methamphetamine cook John Pinder beat ranch hands June Flood and Rex Tanner with a baseball bat, then executed the pair and mutilated their bodies. Pinder, recently convicted of double first-degree murder, was an eccentric rancher with a penchant for weapons and parading his pet male African lion around town. Earlier in 1998, he gained national attention when I prosecuted him for letting his lion cruise Main Street in the back of a pickup truck.
After Pinder shot Flood and Tanner, he wrapped their bodies in explosives and blew them into small pieces.
Not satisfied, he gathered the remains with the aid of another ranch hand, then temporarily stashed them in large garbage bags hidden in bushes.
Returning the following morning with two ranch hands, he burned the remains in a steel drum.
Still distressed that some of the remains were identifiable as human body parts, he once again gathered the remains and blasted them over a large parcel of ground, burying much of the remains and debris.
Cadaver Dogs Find Critical Evidence
It was a homicide investigator's nightmare.
The bodies were blasted twice and burned beyond any recognition, with no visually identifying features remaining. Tiny fragments were spread over acres of ground.
Fortunately for the detectives of the Duchesne County (Utah) Sheriff's Office, Snoopy and Missy were ready to go to work on the case. Missy, handled by Sgt. Wally Hendricks, and Snoopy, handled by Sgt. Dave Boren, are specially trained as cadaver search dogs. They had recently proven their skills in locating a Native American burial site, following reports that some bones had washed away in a flood. A medical examiner's investigation revealed that the site dated back well into the early 1800s. The dogs' work made it possible for appropriate reburial of the remains.
Snoopy and Missy identified the bushes where the body parts had been temporarily stashed, and the canine duo lead investigators to a pair of feet, clad in distinctive stockings. Mates for the stockings were later discovered in Flood's home.
Investigators also found the skull and some facial flesh of the male victim.
Prosecutors still worried, however, about proving that Flood was indeed dead, since nothing more than her feet had been identified, even though the Utah State Crime Laboratory had been able to identify some flesh fragments through DNA analysis.
A year after the initial discovery and Pinder's arrest, detectives gained an important lead when Filomena Valencia Ruiz, the ranch hand present at the time of the beating and murder, agreed to testify against Pinder in order to avoid the risk of the death penalty.
Investigators learned of the second explosion and burn site.
Missy and Snoopy again went to work. Sniffing over acres of ground, they located several fragments of human tissue, and one key find - part of Flood's skull. Now prosecutors would have no difficulty in conclusively establishing Flood's death.
More significantly, and highly critical to Pinder's ultimate conviction, the dogs' discoveries corroborated the co-defendant's testimony about the chain of events and the second body mutilation site.....read more