JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Police say it could take days to know if the partial skull workers found in the backyard of the home Bonnie Haim lived in when she disappeared 21 years ago is human, and even longer to know if it was from Haim.
The sister of the woman last seen in January 1993 hopes it is Bonnie's remains so the family can get some closure and it might give police evidence they need to file charges against Bonnie's husband.
"I think it is all going to be all better soon," said Elizabeth Peak. "We will have closure."
Workers on Sunday digging out an old pool in the backyard of a home where 23-year-old Haim lived 21 years ago found what appeared to be a skull. Jacksonville Sheriff's Office detectives were dispatched to the home on Dolphin Avenue about 1 p.m. Sunday after the workers called 911.
Homicide Sgt. Dan Janson said Sunday that investigators would likely be at the house for the next few days.
"We don't want to miss anything," said Janson. "It takes some time. It may take us up to two or three days because we're very methodical about going across the surface of the ground. Then we'll go another inch down just to make sure we don't miss anything, if this is a burial site."
Investigators spent Monday sifting through the dirt for more evidence. If they find bones, archaeologists will determine if they're human or animal, how long they've been there, and ultimately, who they belonged to.
"If it is human remains, then after that point they may do DNA testing to see if it matches up with the missing person," said News4Jax crime analyst Gil Smith. "It could take several weeks to get that information back."
Michael Haim was a person of interest in his wife's disappearance but never charged. Police seized the home from him as part of a civil judgment and it was sold at auction years later.
On Jan. 6, 1993, Bonnie Haim was suppose to meet her husband''s aunt at her home. She called to say she would not be coming. Neither Bonnie nor Michael showed up for work the next day. Bonnie Haim was never seen again.
Michael Haim said his wife had driven away after the couple had an argument the previous night. He said he did not know her whereabouts, but he had searched for her in vain.
On Jan. 7, 1993, the missing woman's purse was found behind the Red Roof Inn near Jacksonville International Airport, about 5 miles from her residence. Bonnie Haim's car was discovered in a long-term parking lot of the airport. She was declared dead in 1999.
Michael Haim has maintained his innocence. In September 2004, he was found liable for Bonnie's death in a civil suit and he was ordered to pay $15.3 million to the couple's son, Aaron, who was 3 years old at the time, and $11 million to Bonnie Haim's estate.
In the final civil judgement, Circuit Judge Brad Stetson wrote: "There is clear and convincing evidence Michael Haim murdered his wife."
Michael Haim also lost custody of Aaron in 1999. He later moved to Tennessee. He has not returned a message left for him to comment.
The son is now in his mid 20s. He still lives in Jacksonville and his aunt said he's grown up to be a great young man. He is aware of the developments of the case but won't comment unless the remains are confirmed to be his mother's.
Peak said the family knew there were major problems in the marriage.
"We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mike did it," Peak said. "There were a log of problems. He was very abusive."
Back in 1993, then Sheriff Jim McMillian confirmed that Michael Haim was the prime suspect.
"We have witness information that indicates him. We have some physical evidence," McMillian said.
After two decades of hoping for closure every time bones were found in the area, Peaks hopes this will finally be the break investigators need to close the case.
"If it is Bonnie's body, then yes, I think that Angela Corey will certainly prosecute to the fullest extent," Peak said. "We want to see closure; we want to see an end. The fact that her murderer is out there running around free doesn't sit well. We want this done."
Local attorney Gene Nichols said if the remains are in fact Bonnie Haim's, the State Attorney's Office will likely move fast in prosecuting the case.
He said the bigger question is whether police searched the backyard during the initial investigation, and if not, why?
"I'd be surprised if we find out that a warrant was overlooked," Nichols said. "My guess is it never rose to the level of being able to get a warrant to get in the backyard or it was never looked at in the first place."
Nichols said if the remains are human, one key will be determining how the person died.
"If they can make that determination, some blunt-force trauma or something to lead us all to believe that the person died from some kind of unnatural cause, then it should give Ms. Corey enough to at least take the case to the grand jury," Nichols said.