published Friday, July 15th, 2011

Hamilton County deputies hunt for remains

Hamilton County Sheriff's Office personnel oversee workers clearing a grown up area of underbrush due west of downtown Chattanooga where authorities believe a body may be buried.
Hamilton County Sheriff's Office personnel oversee workers clearing a grown up area of underbrush due west of downtown Chattanooga where authorities believe a body may be buried.
Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office is searching for human remains in a wooded area near the Tennessee River in Lookout Valley, the same area where the bones of a 33-year-old homicide victim were found more than six years ago.

Until a couple of weeks ago, investigators in the sheriff’s office had no idea there might be other victims. But after receiving new information, they’re searching again and have hopes of finally bringing the killer of Melissa “Missy” Ward to justice.

On Wednesday, investigators moved into the densely wooded area toward the river with prisoners in tow to clear brush away. It’s unclear how long the search will continue, said Hamilton County Capt. Bill Johnson, who oversees the investigations division.

University of Tennessee forensic anthropologists in Knoxville have been called and may be brought into the investigation, he said.

“We just put them on standby to let them know that we are going to reopen this investigation. We’re going to move into this area and conduct a ground search,” Johnson said. “If we do find any human remains, we want them to come down and help us methodically go through them.”

Ward was reported missing on Nov. 2, 2004. Two months later, her body was found by local defense attorney Bryan Hoss when he was looking at a home to purchase near Cash Canyon Road.

Investigators began excavating Wednesday near the spot where Ward’s body was found.

“We just feel this is an area we need to go back and revisit,” Johnson said.

As of Thursday night, investigators would not disclose what, if any, evidence they located from the searches. Johnson also declined to identify a motive for Ward’s death or release the names of any people of interest.

Ward was last seen by her friends getting into a late-model red Ford pickup truck with a white camper in the Bi-Lo parking lot on 23rd Street on Oct. 29, 2004. She was reported missing by her family two days later.

Most of Ward’s skeletal remains were found two months after her disappearance with no traces of the blue dress she was last seen wearing.

Ward was identified through previous CT scans at a hospital in conjunction with her dental records, according to a medical examiner’s report.

The report stated the cause of death was unknown.

Anyone with any information is asked to contact the sheriff’s office at 423-209-8940.

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406.

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