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Searchers overcame big odds

Lori Hacking
Lori Hacking

Hot. Smelly. Dirty. Tedious. Arduous. Dangerous.

Those are just a few of the words volunteers used to describe the task of combing a landfill by hand in search of a body.

Still, more than three dozen men and women — some police officers, some firefighters, some handlers with cadaver dogs — spent 33 days searching the Salt Lake Valley Solid Waste Facility for the remains of Lori Hacking,

It was an effort Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse described as having "a monumental potential for failure."

But Friday those efforts paid off when a Salt Lake police officer discovered human remains that within hours were positively identified as those of Lori Hacking.

"Most of society, I think, cannot imagine how difficult a task this is," Dinse said at a press conference Friday afternoon as he expressed his gratitude for the work of volunteers.

Lori Hacking, 27, was reported missing July 19 by her husband, who told police she had gone for a jog in Memory Grove.

Prosecutors believe Mark Hacking shot and killed his wife as she slept because Lori had learned that Mark had lied to her about his graduation from the University of Utah and his plans to attend medical school. The couple had been married five years, and Lori was reportedly five weeks pregnant.

Mark Hacking, 28, has been charged with one count of first-degree felony murder and three counts of second-degree felony obstruction of justice in connection with his wife's death. He will appear in court Oct. 29 to enter a plea to the charges.

In an alleged confession to his brothers, Mark Hacking said he had deposited his wife's body in a Dumpster after killing her.

His confession confirmed what police already believed: Lori Hacking's body might be found in the landfill.

A 21-day search with cadaver dogs was unable to locate the body, and in early September police opted to switch to a hand search. The method had proved successful for some other police departments, Dinse said last month — although in general the probability for finding a body in a landfill is low.

Police officers from nearly every agency in the Salt Lake Valley, including the Utah Department of Public Safety, responded to the call for assistance from Dinse and committed volunteers to the effort.

On the first day of the hand search, 38 searchers worked shoulder to shoulder as the tedious work of combing through the garbage with pitchfork-like rakes proceeded. In the 12 working days since, between 20 and 25 searchers were at the task each day, Salt Lake police detective Jay Rhodes said.

Each day, officers worked their way through refuse in sections of about 100 tons. Between 300 and 400 tons were cleared each day, Salt Lake police detective Phil Eslinger said.

Rhodes coordinated the logistics for the search, ensuring officers had food, water, equipment and anything else they needed. Friday morning, some officers cried when it became clear that human remains had been found, he said.

"I don't think people realize the emotional toll this takes," Rhodes said.

Salt Lake police officer John Lundgren was one of the volunteers sorting through the trash pile Friday morning and was about 50 yards away from the officer who discovered Lori's remains.

During the three-week search, volunteers would occasionally call in a casual manner to others to, "Hey, come take a look at this," Lundgren said. But Friday morning, he said he knew immediately from the screams and excitement in everyone's voices that this wasn't a routine find.

"This morning was certainly different. We knew we had something," he said. "It's pretty unmistakable, human remains."

Lundgren said it was a difficult search. Despite the heat, the smell and other hazards of sorting through the trash, he said volunteers showed up day after day to help bring closure to the family.

Sgt. J.R. Nelson made the grisly discovery. He told one Salt Lake television station that he broke down when he realized what he had found.

"It was very tough, a very tough time," said Nelson, who works for the Salt Lake City Police Department.