Salt Lake police plan to exhume the body of a girl whose murder has remained unsolved for 17 years.

Tiffany Hambleton, 14, disappeared in February 1986. She was later found stabbed to death in a ditch in a Salt Lake City field.

Her death was one in a series of mysterious homicides involving women between 1985 and 1986 along the Wasatch Front. Christine Gallegos, 18, was shot and stabbed in May 1985. Carla Maxwell was shot while working at a Layton convenience store in April 1986. Lisa Strong, 25, was shot in May 1986.

Three of those murders remain unsolved. Forest Whittle was convicted in Strong's death after Mayor Rocky Anderson, then a practicing attorney who represented the victims' families, pushed for the state to convene a grand jury.

The remaining cases made headlines again earlier this year when Anderson appointed an independent commission to review them along with the Elizabeth Smart case. In August, Salt Lake City police formed a new "cold case" squad to take another look at more than 60 unsolved Salt Lake City homicides.

The squad said its first priorities would be the Hambleton and Gallegos murders.

Because of the advances in DNA technology over the past 15 years, Salt Lake City police detective Dwayne Baird said the decision was made to exhume Hambleton's body. He noted that a lot of paperwork still had to be filled out before the exhumation could take place. Baird said it would probably happen sometime within the next 30 days.

"At first it kind of threw me," Hambleton's mother Vicki English said of the decision to exhume her daughter's body. "I felt really weird about it at first. The more I think about it, it's a good thing. I don't think (police) would be doing that if they didn't have a reason."

English, who now lives in Martin City, Mont., said she recently sent paperwork back to investigators giving her OK to exhume her daughter's body. She said they promised to notify her when a date was set.

English said initially she struggled with the decision to disturb her daughter's grave.

"But it's what Tiffany would want me to do. That's not Tiffany (in the grave). She's with God. If any justice comes out of this, that's what she would want," she said.

English said she's encouraged that the case "feels like it's moving more than it ever has."

Anderson concurred this week that he was also pleased with police efforts to gather new evidence.

"I'm very supportive (of exhuming her body). I worked extremely hard with Tiffany's mother and grandparents in trying to solve that case years ago," Anderson said. "Now there are people (police detectives) taking very aggressive measures to do anything they can to bring her killer to justice."

Anderson said he wasn't directly involved with the decision to exhume Hambleton's body, but "I made it clear to Chief Dinse that I wanted a thorough investigation of this crime."

When asked whether investigators planned also to exhume the body of Gallegos, Baird said there were currently no specific plans. But if it was determined that sufficient evidence could be gained by doing so, he said they probably would do it.

"I hope something comes out of this," English said. "I want to put an end to this. It's been very frustrating . . . very hard on my children . . . hard on me. It's just taken my life. I'd like to get it finalized and put Tiffany to peace."


Contributing: Brady Snyder.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com