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Search for body continues in pond

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Members of the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department, Connersville PoliceDepartmentand Everton Fire Department sift through mud recovered from a pond at Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary, looking for signs of possible human remains. The sheriff has asked the public to stay away from the area, which is under 24-hour surveillance.
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Denise Pflum in her high school senior photo.
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By KATE THURSTON - kthurston@newsexaminer.com

Denise Pflum has been missing for over 32 years. If you know where she is, the time to come forward is now.

Fayette County Sheriff Joey Laughlin and a large crew of county and city law enforcement have been working hard core on the Denise Pflum case for the past two years, but things have really amped up the last two months.

Pflum went missing at the age of 18 near the Rush/Fayette county line on March 28, 1986. To this day, no one knows where she is. Yet.

“I am very optimistic that we are getting very close to something in this case, and the time is now for someone to come forward with whatever they know before it’s too late, before we are knocking on their door,” Laughlin said. “We encourage anyone that has anything substantial, and that they can prove, to come forward. There are always options. If someone made a mistake 32 years ago, it is something that can be talked about. There are options, just come forward.”

About two months ago, Detective Rick Wilcox had contacted the Indiana Department of Homeland Security about using their K-9 unit in the search.

“Detective Wilcox had contact with them, and he raised the question to have them check rumored spots in reference to the Pflum case. We contacted them and searched three properties total. They (the dogs) gave no indications at any of the other locations but did give indication at the fourth pond at Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary.”

The dogs detected a strong indication of human remains, but law enforcement has no idea who it might be.

“The pond has always been rumored, it was even looked into after the disappearance in 1989,” Laughlin said. “What took so long to get out there is, we had to have a reason to go into the pond and the dogs gave us that reason. To just go out and drain a pond based off of rumor or hearsay would be hard to do.

“These dogs are very highly trained and skilled and when they gave the indications that they did, it wasn’t just one dog, it was four dogs total. The initial day, the first dog gave eight indications on the bank of the pond, then the dog was put into the water and gave several more indications. Two days later, another water trained K-9 came out as well as another from Wisconsin. We wanted to have plenty of indications before we took the steps we decided to take.”

Homeland Security has provided the handlers and their K-9s along with spotters to assist. They have been out to the area four times.

“We started searching the pond was around two months ago and we started to drain the pond on Aug. 24,” Laughlin said.

The group has continued pumping water out because of the recent rains.

When asked what had been found so far, Laughlin had no comment.

“This is going to take several more weeks. This is a very remote location and getting machinery back there is next to impossible with this rain,” he said

Laughlin asked the public to stay away from the area and let the team do its job.

“We need people to stay away, we are treating it as a crime scene for now. If anybody wants to volunteer resources as far as equipment, we could use it. Digging this pond out is taking a lot of manpower. Our guys have been out there every day since we drained it. Some of these guys are volunteering their time. We are doing it as low cost as possible, it is end of the year and the county doesn’t have a ton of money to spare.”

The community of Connersville has really pulled together to get to the bottom of this unsolved case,” he said.

“I’ve never been more proud to be a member of this department than I have in the last few weeks. These guys have pulled together, chipped in and done things like putting themselves in 3-4 feet of mud to move planks around and floating docks, running a water pump; it has been phenomenal and not much griping. We have had awesome help from the city police, members of Rush County have reached out, Union County, Everton Fire Department, and Fayette County Highway Department has helped the last few days as well.”

Over the past few months, Laughlin and others have tried to keep the case under wraps in order to keep the area and any evidence safe. Mentions started showing up on social media in the past several days.

“With an investigation like this, and now that it is out, we try to keep things quiet, not to keep anything from the public but just to not try to compromise the integrity of the investigation. We are treating this case like it just happened, its all hands on deck, everyone is pushing for it. We may not find anything, but we aren’t going to stop. If we don’t find anything, we can maybe close that chapter and move on to the next thing but I am very optimistic we are getting to a good spot. I can’t say enough about everyone is helping out.”

Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary is still open to the public, although the trail to the pond is blocked off. Caretaker Carl Wilms gave consent to conduct the investigation, the sheriff said.

“They have been extremely helpful and he has been a huge help to us.”

Denise’s parents, David and Judy Pflum, still hold on to hope.

“Going back two years, ago, Joey met with Judy and I along with other police personnel to discuss this case that has been going on for 32 years,” David Pflum said. “Joey indicated there were some things he would like to try, and this is a result of one of the things. They took these cadaver dogs to several locations throughout the county, the only location they had a positive hit was the fourth pond back in the dense area of Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary. So that is where we are at right now everything,” Pflum explained.

The family stays in touch with Laughlin and trusts his judgment in the case.

“We stay in contact with the sheriff daily. We are keenly aware as to what is going on.”

The Pflum family is taking a ride on an emotional roller coaster.

“From Judy and I’s viewpoint, we have mixed emotions. We go down one avenue hoping that something is in fact found and that it can be our daughter so that we might be able to move forward; with the other half is to find out who is responsible for her disappearance. As anyone would feel, we go through battles in our mind hoping that it’s not her in a watery grave buried in silt for 32 years. It is an emotional rollercoaster for Judy and I and has been for 32 years. It continues to be a heightened rollercoaster over the last two months.”

The family is still asking for tips and leads from any who can help.

“If they have information, they need to contact the sheriff’s department or law enforcement. There is a Facebook page called ‘Justice for Denise Pflum.’ A detective who is not from here monitors that page if you would like to message there. We have had several contacts through Facebook, from people with information and we have relayed it all to the sheriff who follows up on the leads. We are grateful to the law enforcement here in the city and county for all the work they are doing, and also for all the friends and family,” Judy Pflum said.

Have David and Judy played scenarios of their own in their head? 

“Judy and I have probably gone over a thousand different possibilities and theories and people of significant interest for the last 32 years. None of that has changed, we still do that, we do that in our own mind but we also do it with one another to try to rebound thoughts off of each other to come to some resolution of this nightmare that began 32 years ago. So yes, we have theories, lots of them. We are just hoping we can get them narrowed down to one actual happening

There still is a $25,000 reward leading to the exact location of her remains or if she is alive, where she is.

“I think everyone shares the hope we can bring closure to this family,” Laughlin said. “I think we are close.”

Denise would have turned 50 on Jan. 14.