Uncle of missing 5-year-old Utah girl charged; a body found near her home

Investigators in Utah have found remains they believe are those of a missing 5-year-old girl, Elizabeth Shelley. Her uncle was formally charged with aggravated murder and other charges.

Posted: May 30, 2019 8:10 AM
Updated: May 30, 2019 8:10 AM

Investigators in Utah have found remains they believe are those of a missing 5-year-old girl after the suspect provided a map of an area that authorities searched, a police chief said Wednesday afternoon.

Alex Whipple, the uncle of the girl, was formally charged with aggravated murder and other charges. Investigators had held out hope of finding Elizabeth Shelley alive, police said.

"We certainly wanted to bring Lizzy home," Logan City Police Chief Gary Jensen said.

The child's family thanked law enforcement and others who helped in the search. "Lizzy was such a caring and giving little girl. We hope that we can look to her as an example of how to live," it said in a statement.

Whipple's attorney said his client gave information to authorities.

"I met with Mr. Whipple this morning and we went over the case. He felt it would be appropriate to disclose the location of the body," attorney Shannon Demler said. "He told me, and I told authorities and took them there about 1 p.m. today."

Demler indicated the location was very close to Elizabeth's home.

Whipple, 21, who has been the main suspect in the girl's disappearance, also was charged with a count of child kidnapping, two counts of obstruction of justice and a count of desecration of a body, said Jensen. "We don't have a motive at this point," the chief told reporters.

Jensen said that a deal was reached with the Cache County Attorney's Office to take the death penalty off the table, in exchange for information that would lead to the girl's body.

Whipple had been drinking and playing video games with Elizabeth's mother and her live-in boyfriend the night before the girl was reported missing, according to court documents filed in Cache County.

The suspect, located by police hours after Elizabeth vanished, gave investigators conflicting versions of his whereabouts the previous night, the documents said. At one point, he left a police interview room and "began licking his hands" and trying to wipe them clean.

Whipple eventually admitted being at Elizabeth's home and told police he went on a walk to "enjoy the scenery" after his sister and boyfriend went to their room, according to the documents. Again, investigators discovered inconsistencies in his time line.

During the interview with police, the documents said, the suspect referred to the "evil" in the world and his "struggles as a child and how his family has treated him horribly throughout his life."

Whipple told police that alcohol makes him "black out" and that "he sometimes does 'criminal things' when he blacks out," the documents said. There were dark stains consistent with blood on his pants and cuts on his hands.

Investigators searching for the girl later discovered a broken, blood-stained knife that was missing from her mother's kitchen and a PVC pipe with a partial, bloodied palm print, according to the documents.

Not far away, police found the teal skirt with white lace that Elizabeth had been wearing buried beneath dirt and bark. The skirt was stained with blood. A small concrete block nearby also was stained with blood.

The blood on the suspect's clothing, his watch and the knife was matched to Elizabeth during a DNA test, the documents said. The palm print on pipe was matched to the suspect.

Elizabeth was last seen at her home by her mother on Saturday at 2 a.m., according to Logan City Police Capt. Tyson Budge. Shelley's family also last saw Whipple, who had come to the family's home for a visit on Friday night, around that time.

Whipple, who has since been arrested, was the main suspect in the child's disappearance. "We have strong evidence connecting Alex to Lizzy's disappearance," Jensen said.

Jensen said they had forensic evidence linking the two together, "DNA positive materials," but would not elaborate.

Whipple had been arrested on a warrant for probation violation on Saturday. Elizabeth was not with him when he was found, police said.

He appeared in court Tuesday and was ordered held without bail, according to CNN affiliate KSTU.

Investigators are now looking to determine a search area for the child using security cameras and smart doorbell systems near the Shelley's home.

Police have released surveillance footage of Whipple's attire on Friday in hopes that businesses and residents will check their footage as well as their yards, buildings, containers and garbage cans for anything they don't recognize.

Jensen said Whipple has been exercising his right to remain silent and has not been cooperating with the investigation.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled Elizabeth Shelley's nickname. It's Lizzy.

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