Landfill search usually ‘last resort,’ forensic expert says

FBI agents, investigators searching Georgia landfill in connection with Clay County woman’s disappearance

Investigators are scheduled to wrap up their search at a Southeast Georgia landfill in connection with the disappearance of a 65-year-old Fleming Island woman by the end of this week.

On Jan. 21, FBI agents, along with investigators from the Clay County Sheriff’s Office and the State Attorney’s Office, began conducting a search at the Chesser Island Road landfill near Folkston in support of Sheriff’s Office investigation into the disappearance of Susan Mauldin, who has not been seen nor heard from since Oct. 23.

In the early stages of the investigation into Mauldin’s disappearance, the Sheriff’s Office identified Rosemary Hill Solid Waste Management Facility in Clay County as a location of interest. The Sheriff’s Office then isolated an area of interest at the Chesser Island Road Landfill, where all waste from Clay County is transferred, and requested assistance from the FBI to coordinate the search of that area. FBI spokeswoman Amanda Videll said the search area is approximately the size of a baseball diamond and about 40 search members are on scene at any given time.

Typically, forensic expert Michael LaForte said, investigators only search landfills when they have a pretty good lead.

“That or maybe a last resort,” he said. “You’ve covered everything else. Are there any other possibilities? And this may be one of those possibilities. You can’t just exclude it without doing anything, so you’re going to have to go in there and do the search.”

LaForte, who retired from the Jacksonville Sheriff Office, told News4Jax by FaceTime that cooler winter weather may have helped preserve evidence and the multiday search likely has a lot do with the number of logistics involved in searching mountains of trash.

“Everything you dig through is going to have to be examined. Every garbage bag you may have to do some sifting, documenting and photography about where you are and what you’re doing,” LaForte said. “So it’s a huge task.”

News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson said anything that may be found in the landfill likely won’t be made too public, particularly because investigators have named a contractor who Mauldin hired to install tiles in her Fleming Island home, Corey Binderim, a person of interest in connection with her disappearance.

“The only reason why he’s labeled a person of interest is they don’t have enough corroborating evidence to link him as a suspect right now," Jefferson said. "They mostly only start as a person of interest until they gather enough evidence to pursue prosecution and bring charges against an individual. That’s not to say that they will.”

Binderim, 45, is behind bars in the Duval County jail on a forgery charge unrelated to Mauldin’s case.

Anyone with information about Mauldin’s disappearance is asked to call the Sheriff’s Office at 904-264-6512.

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