Armed with a search warrant, a convoy of heavy equipment along with groups of specially-trained FBI agents, federal authorities began searching a Pike County landfill Monday morning in connection with the disappearance of Aleah Beckerle, a 19-year-old disabled woman from Evansville. As part of the search that could take as long as eight weeks, the federal agents are sifting through several thousand tons of trash and debris from the Blackfoot Landfill, which is owned by Advanced Disposal.
Federal agents from Quantico, Virginia began searching an area near the southern portion of the landfill after executing the search warrant Monday morning. The area that agents are focusing on has a debris pile that is roughly 18 feet deep and is larger than a football field, said Evansville Police Sgt. Jason Cullum.
During a press conference Monday morning, Sgt. Cullum quickly confirmed that the search was in connection with Beckerle’s disappearance. Beckerle, 19, went missing from her East Iowa street home in mid-July. Beckerle is severely disabled, bound to a wheelchair and requires twice-daily medications for her seizures.
Sgt. Cullum couldn’t provide specific details on what led authorities to the landfill, however, because the federal search warrant had been sealed by a federal judge.
“It has taken several weeks to get to the point where we are doing the physical search,” Sgt. Cullum said. “Coordinating with the FBI, local law enforcement from Pike County as well as Advanced Disposal has taken time. There is a specific method that is being used out here during the search.”
The teams of FBI agents from the are specially trained in landfill-related searches, Cullum said. The FBI is leading the search efforts because of their expertise and greater amount of available resources.
While searching a landfill will undoubtedly create speculation that Beckerle is deceased, Cullum said there is nothing to indicate that she’s dead at this time.
“This is not an acknowledgment that she is deceased,” Cullum said. “Obviously, when searching a landfill, it can create some grim speculation. It’s a landfill. It is what it is. We have found nothing during the course of the investigation that shows [Beckerle] is not alive.”
Citing the sealed search warrant, Cullum could not go into detail on how credible the lead was that prompted the large scale operation. A source close to the investigation said the budget for the operation is $185,000.
“When you search a facility this size, you have to have some kind of purpose behind your search,” Cullum said. “You have to have some type of start point. There was a lot that went into that. We have followed up on almost 200 tips from the public. We have been committed to that since we started [the investigation]. For us, every piece of information we get is deemed credible until we find out that it’s not.”
Given the sheer size of the area and the amount of trash agents will have to methodically and tediously have to sift through, Cullum said the search could very well take anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks. The landfill also poses some inherent challenges when it comes to locating and preserving potential evidence. That places a greater emphasis on the FBI’s lead role in the search effort, Cullum said.
“This is what they do. They are specialists,” Cullum said. “These are the folks we want on hand doing this so at the end of the day we can say we had the best people, the best agencies and the best resources so when we leave this, we can feel confident that we’ve done the best job we can possibly do.”
Cullum said authorities were able to have the area of the landfill blocked off prior to the FBI securing a search warrant. This will aid in the investigation because the integrity of the scene will have been maintained, Cullum said.
Advanced Disposal serves dozens of communities throughout the Tri-State. In the area where authorities are searching, Cullum would not specify where the trash came from, citing the sealed federal warrant.
A former employee of the landfill told Eyewitness News that the trash from the Evansville and Henderson metro areas is picked up by the company’s trucks before it is compacted inside the truck. Once the truck is full, the contents inside the truck are then dumped at a transfer station before being loaded onto a larger vehicle, usually a semi-trailer.
The semi is then driven to the landfill and the contents are dumped. After that, another vehicle comes by and compacts the trash again.
The area of the landfill where federal authorities are searching is not visible from the main gate. Although the landfill is still open for normal business, no member of the public will be allowed in to see the search efforts. Evansville police will continue constant surveillance on the property until the search is complete.
On July 17th, officers responded to the Beckerle home in reference to Aleah’s disappearance. Aleah is disabled, requires full-time care and has limited use of her arms, in addition to not being able to walk. Additionally, Aleah takes seizure medication twice a day.
Aleah was last seen in her bed around 9pm on July 16th, investigators noted in the search warrant. The following day, July 17th around 9:15am, Beckerle was found to be missing from her bed. Aleah’s primary caregiver is her mother, Cara. Her two sisters also help care for Aleah, according to the search warrant.
According to the affidavit for the search warrant, detectives determined that Cara Beckerle and Aleah’s two sisters were the only people inside the home during the period of time in which Aleah was abducted. One of the sisters said she was asleep with Cara on the couch across from Aleah’s bed, according to court records. There was also a large dog present on the couch alongside Cara Beckerle and Alea’s sister. The older sister told detectives that she was asleep in her upstairs bedroom, police said.
As for the early conversations between detectives and Cara Beckerle, detectives noted that Beckerle’s statements changed during the course of the investigation, according to the search warrant.
Cara Beckerle has adamantly denied having any involvement in her daughter’s disappearance. Police have also not publicly identified a potential suspect.
Cara has previously told Eyewitness News that someone had entered the home while she was asleep and abducted Aleah. Additionally, she also said that she was recovering from an extensive surgery to remove an infected bone in her chest.
The Beckerle family maintains hope that Aleah will be found alive.
“I still have hope that she’s in someone’s house and she’s going to come home,” Cara Beckerle said. “She’s alive. She’s going to come home.”