published Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Police end search for body

The search for the body of an Ohio woman continued Wednesday as Chattanooga authorities combed through wooded areas in hopes that a dog might lead them to her resting place.

  • photo
    Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press Members of the Hamilton County Special Tactics and Rescue Service use cadaver dog Abby as they search an area near the railroad tracks at Hickory Valley Road on Wednesday looking for the body of Gladis Russell.

“I just hope we can find her,” said Chattanooga Police Assistant Chief Tim Carroll. “It’s a needle-in-a-haystack type of thing.”

Richard Russell, 84, of Bellefontaine, Ohio, went missing Feb. 16 along with his wife, Gladis, 85. Using dental records, local authorities identified a body found Saturday in Chattanooga as Richard Russell. He had been stabbed once in the chest and his body was dumped on Lightfoot Mill Road, according to police.

The body of Gladis Russell has not been found.

On Wednesday, search parties looked over property near Amnicola Highway, along Hickory Valley Road and on Lightfoot Mill Road. Members of the Police Academy’s latest class of 23 cadets helped sworn officers search the property near Amnicola Highway.

But without more detail on where to search, police aren’t sure they’ll be able to find her. About 7 p.m. Wednesday, the search for her body was called off for today because police have “exhausted all resources” and all leads, said spokeswoman Officer Rebecca Royval.

“At some point, someone is going to stumble across her,” Carroll said. “I don’t think it will be a police officer. I think it will be a hunter or a hiker.”

Bellefontaine (Ohio) Police Department investigators believe the couple was killed at their rural Ohio residence by Samuel K. Littleton II, an acquaintance who has been arrested and charged with killing the daughter of his girlfriend in Ohio.

Littleton, who purchased a house from the Russells, has not been charged in the couple’s disappearance, although he told authorities that he placed the body of Gladis Russell in a “white, glowing cotton field,” according to Bellefontaine police.

“You have to take into consideration what that may have been. Volkswagen is a glowing area at night. It could have been that,” Hamilton County Search Tactics and Rescue Service Chief Jim Poplin said Wednesday.

Poplin, along with about 10 members of the volunteer organization, searched in a two-mile radius around Bonny Oaks Drive and Hickory Valley Road on Wednesday afternoon.

Authorities initially directed their search between Macon and Valdosta, Ga., because Littleton was stopped by police near Valdosta for driving without headlights. He was let go because the car’s license plate was inaccurately fed into the police computer and didn’t return a hit that it was stolen.

But after finding Richard Russell’s body, authorities are focusing their search on the Chattanooga area.

Investigators believe Littleton placed the couple in the trunk of their green Mercury Marquis and took off after abandoning his own vehicle near the couple’s home in Ohio.

He traveled along Interstate 75 and told detectives that he exited off a paved road, turned onto a sandy road and dumped the body of Gladis Russell. He said he then dumped Richard Russell’s body in a different place before returning to I-75, according to Bellefontaine police.

Investigators went back through Littleton’s interview with Ohio police, looking for details about where to search for Gladis Russell.

“He’s [Russell’s] here. She’s supposedly nearby,” Carroll said.

Bringing Littleton to Chattanooga to help with the search might be possible, but “he currently is with an attorney,” Carroll said.

“If that ever comes about, it will have to go through a legal process,” he said. “We’ve thought about that, but that’s kind of out of our control.”

Authorities are asking that anyone who sees circling vultures — a possible sign of a dead body — or something that appears to be a body to call Chattanooga police at 423-698-2525.

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