A Florida woman who has been missing for a week has been found in her own septic tank.
Cynthia Cole, 57, was found “submerged in the contents of the tank about four feet under” in her garden by police on Friday evening.
Her handyman, Keoki Hilo Demich, 34, whom she had known for years, has been arrested and charged with her murder.
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Cole was last seen at the Jammin Jensen festival in Jensen Beach with friends on February 24; she left that night for home – and was never seen again.
Friends grew concerned when Cole – who was “pretty good at her routines” – started missing appointments and alerted the Martin County Sheriff‘s Office, which issued a missing persons bulletin.
Detectives visited her home, where they noticed she was doing some renovations, building an extension for a bed & breakfast, but nothing else out of the ordinary: no signs of a break-in or violence.
They were about to leave the property, when an “extremely alert” detective looked down and noticed something strange about a lid on the septic tank.
“He noticed the bolts holding that riser on didn’t look right,” Sheriff William Snyder told WPTV. “The dirt was far from them, and I think a few were loose.”
“He just collapsed, undid that riser, pulled it out and unfortunately… he discovered our victim’s body.”
Recovering the remains – which were submerged in “all the effluent that comes with this type of system” – while trying to preserve the evidence, Sheriff Snyder said, was a gruesome challenge.
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“It was probably as difficult a crime scene as I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for over 40 years, I’ve never seen anything like it. We didn’t have a collective – neither of us had experience recovering evidence from a septic tank.”
“I don’t want to be too graphic – but the opening that we could see her remains in was not such that we could have gotten her out of there.”
Police had to call in heavy machinery and septic tank experts as they spent all night from Friday to Saturday morning digging around the pit to get to it.
Officers had ropes tied around their waists, lowering them into the pit as they attempted to retrieve the four-foot body of waste from inside the 900-gallon tank.
“If they had lost their footing – one of them lost their footing – but if either of them had gotten into this, we would have been in real trouble,” the sheriff said. “It took us all night. It was a challenge.”
Since nothing of note had happened at the festival – Cole hadn’t even been drinking – and because she was living alone, investigators began looking for suspects who may have known her…and the very first person of interest would quickly become the main and only suspect. .
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“The first person we really met that we were interested in…was someone she had known, to our knowledge, for years. He was a jack of all trades. Someone who had just helped her. She was a lonely woman, lonely, he helped her,” Sheriff Snyder said.
“From the minute we started talking to him, or fairly soon after we started talking to him, we became suspicious… We became so suspicious that we started doing almost 24-hour surveillance. on 24.”
Investigators found Cole’s gray 2015 Jeep Cherokee parked a few steps from Demich’s house. They said that although he initially denied being nearby – although video evidence showed him walking away from it – he later admitted to driving it.
When the detectives asked him why he was driving the car, he gave them “a bogus excuse”.
They said during interviews there were many inconsistencies in his story, and he said things they could prove weren’t true.
“It was a conglomeration of lies,” the sheriff said.
When asked why authorities first suspected him, Sheriff Snyder replied, “Detectives, you don’t want to call it a sixth sense, but they develop a ‘tingle’; and sometimes they just know they’re onto something. In this case, it was more than that.”
Police do not yet have a motive, although they said the most likely was theft.
They also don’t know how she was killed, pending the autopsy. The sheriff said they later found evidence that she was killed in the house and then moved to the tank.
According to Sheriff Snyder, one of the most disconcerting things about the case — the thing that made them instantly suspect foul play — was that “there was nothing in her life that screamed that she taking unnecessary risks.
He said that often victims of crime engage in risky behavior, which can be a contributing factor when something serious happens.
“Nothing in her life indicated that she was lucky,” he said. “She’s known the guy for years. She didn’t do anything wrong.”
He said his overriding feeling about the case was one of “deep sadness”.
“Human life is the most precious thing on Earth, and to see a human being in a septic tank is quite shocking,” he said.
“Whenever I see man’s inhumanity to man – as long as I’ve done that – I’m always amazed at what people will do.”
Demich is currently charged with second degree murder, which could be upgraded to first degree.
He has a history of burglary, for which he served time in prison, but nothing in his history suggests he was a violent criminal, the sheriff said.