Search held at Nampa School District Office for woman missing 54 years

Boise State student Zongbo Xu works with professor of geophysics Dylan Mikesell to test out a device which will be used to take readings of the foundation of the Nampa School District office to search for remains of Lillian Richey. (Chris Bronson/Idaho Press-Tribune)

NAMPA — Following up on years of tips, Nampa police officers and Boise State University students searched Wednesday under the Nampa School District Office for a woman missing for 54 years, the Idaho Press-Tribune reported.

They used so-called cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar in the search.

“We’re extremely hopeful,” Nampa Police Lt. Eric Skoglund said before the search. “What do you got to lose? No way to feel but hopeful now.”

The officers and students were looking for the body of Lillian Richey, who at the age of 51 disappeared from her Nampa home in February 1964. She lived blocks from a construction site where workers were laying the foundation of what would eventually become the Nampa School District Office.

Evidence has never been found that would lead police to the school district, but rumors have long since said her body is beneath the school district’s foundation.

Fifty-four years later, her now 86-year-old son, Gene Richey, recalls the rumors and is hopeful this search will bring closure to him and his family.

Lillian Richey was last seen at a the Ranch Club in Garden City. Two men reportedly drove her home the night, and she was never seen again, Gene Richey said.

Following her disappearance, Nampa Police spent months investigating every lead, including dredging a local irrigation ditch. In 1967, Gene Richey petitioned to have his mother declared dead. A funeral was held for her.

On Wednesday, Nampa Police and students from the Boise State’s Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) partnered with the Nampa School District to try to bring some closure to the case.

Skoglund said investigators had explored the school district in the past, but until now they didn’t have the right connections or technology to do this kind of search.

Before the search began, those involved explained the process to reporters.

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The search would begin with cadaver dogs sniffing the basement and crawl space below. Though Richey has been missing for 54 years, a well-trained cadaver dog can sniff decomposition for decades after burial.

The next step would involve Boise State’s SEG chapter going into the crawlspace and using ground-penetrating radar to look for anomalies in the soil under the concrete pad. Changes in soil stratigraphy could indicate a hole dug prior to the concrete being poured.

Unless they get lucky, Skoglund said the search would likely last a few days. If they don’t find anything, Skoglund said he’s not sure what the next step will be.

If the cadaver dogs hit on any specific areas, the SEG chapter can use that information to narrow and possibly shorten their search, said Tate Meehan, chapter member and master’s candidate.

Geophysical techniques such as this are often used in forensic investigations. The technology has been proven useful in searches, especially when coupled with assistance from cadaver dogs, Meehan said. But the group has never used it like this before.

“This is a good application of geophysical techniques with the right cause,” Meehan said. “There is nothing to not be excited about.”

If there is a body underneath the school district building, Meehan said it’s likely the search team will come across some sign of it.

If the search provides information to suggest that a body is under the foundation of the school district, a number of aspects must be considered going forward, Skoglund said. First, they have to consider the likelihood of the information really indicating a body, and how intrusive it would be to retrieve the remains.

Though 54 years has gone by since Gene Richey has seen his mother, he said he still thinks about her nearly every day. Lillian Richey hasn’t been forgotten, as family members, some of whom came in from out of state for the search, gathered together Wednesday in the district office.

Lillian would be 105 years old today. Though the family realizes they will never see her again, their best hope is getting some closure.

“Maybe we can have a real funeral for her,” Gene Richey said.

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