Human remains found at a Salt Lake Valley landfill Friday morning were positively identified later in the afternoon as those of Lori Hacking.

The Utah Office of the Medical Examiner was able to use dental records to identify Hacking's body about six hours after the discovery.

"The condition of the body allowed the medical examiner to come up with it fairly quickly," Salt Lake City police detective Phil Eslinger said.

The body — found 33 days after police first began searching the refuse pile — was "heavily decomposed," but most of the remains were recovered, Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse said.

A Salt Lake police officer, Sgt. J.R. Nelson, who has been among the more than two dozen volunteer searchers combing the landfill with pitchforks for the past three weeks, discovered the body about 8:20 a.m.

"It was very tough, a very tough time," Nelson said as he left the landfill Friday afternoon. "I probably had the worst time of it myself after turning over the pile and locating her."

The discovery was emotional for officers at the scene, bringing many to tears, Dinse said.

But none were more moved than the parents of Lori Hacking, Thelma and Eraldo Soares.

"We cannot possibly express in words our gratitude to the many people, state and county agencies, private businesses and all others who have been involved in the search for Lori at the landfill," reads a statement from the family, which was distributed by e-mail. "It means everything to us to find Lori's mortal remains so that we might lay them to rest with the dignity befitting the valiant daughter of God that she was."

A private family service will be held to inter Lori's remains once police have released them to her family, said David Gehris, a friend of Thelma Soares, who has served as a spokesman for the family. A memorial service for the missing woman was held Aug. 14.

The search

Lori Hacking, 27, was reported missing July 19, when her husband, Mark Hacking, called police to say his wife had not returned from a jog in Memory Grove. Within hours, however, police had determined that Mark Hacking's story didn't add up; within days they knew that Mark had also lied to many about the details of his life, including his acceptance to medical school in North Carolina.

A communitywide search for Lori drew thousands of volunteers, but those efforts were suspended after Mark Hacking allegedly confessed to his brothers that he had shot his wife as she slept and left her body in a Dumpster near the University of Utah. Hacking allegedly said he had used a .22-caliber rifle in the slaying.

Police believe that Lori, a stockbroker's assistant who had been married to Mark Hacking for five years, had discovered her husband's deceptions and that her slaying was precipitated by an argument between them.

Mark Hacking is now charged with first-degree felony murder and three counts of second-degree felony obstruction of justice in connection with the killing. A week ago, he waived his right to a preliminary hearing and will be arraigned on the charges on Oct. 29.

At last week's hearing, Stott said that attorneys had not discussed a plea agreement.

Hacking's attorney, D. Gilbert Athay, reportedly plans to take the matter to trial. A telephone call to Athay from the Deseret Morning News was not returned Friday.

Mark Hacking's family also issued a statement Friday. Like the Soares family, the Hackings expressed their gratitude to volunteers for their efforts.

"We hope today's discovery will begin to bring closure to both our family and the Soares families in this tragic event," the Hacking family statement reads.

The investigation

Police have yet to locate the rifle, which is believed to have been put in a separate Dumpster.

Prior to the identification of the body, Dinse said Friday the search at the landfill would be over if the body was indeed Lori Hacking's. Investigators would not continue searching for the gun Mark Hacking is alleged to have used, he said.

Lori's body will remain at the medical examiner's office as the investigation continues, including the official determination of cause of death, Eslinger said. It was not known when her body might be turned over to her family.

Dinse did not know if it would be possible for medical experts to determine if Lori Hacking was pregnant at the time of her death. Mark Hacking had told Lori's mother that the couple had just learned Lori was pregnant. One of Mark Hacking's sisters had also told family that she had seen the results of a home pregnancy test.

Salt Lake Deputy District Attorney Bob Stott, the lead prosecutor in the case against Mark Hacking, called Friday "a good day all the way around for prosecutors."

Although confident of their case even without the recovery of a body, finding Lori Hacking's remains would only strengthen the prosecution's case, Stott said.

"Now we can prove a murder took place," he said. "Now we will be able to establish for sure that there was a death, a homicide, and probably be able to determine for sure how the death occurred."

Stott also said it was "a great day for the family."

"Now they know that (her) final resting place is not the bottom of the landfill."

The landfill

Historically, landfill searches have not been very successful, said Dinse, who noted that the needle-in-a-haystack analogy may not even accurately describe what searchers in Salt Lake City were up against.

"This has been an exceptional case, to say the least," Dinse said.

Landfill operations manager Bud Stanford concurred with Dinse's assessment that landfill searches are most often unsuccessful and that the chances of a find were low. But, given that police quickly determined it was a possibility, landfill administrators believed it was only a "matter of time" until the body was found, he said.

Still, the task was daunting.

An estimated 4,300 tons of refuse was deposited at the Salt Lake Valley Solid Waste Facility, 3060 W. California Ave. (1400 South), on July 19, the day Lori Hacking disappeared, Stanford said. By midday July 20, police asked landfill managers to redirect incoming refuse to another area of the facility.

Cadaver dogs and handlers spent 21 unsuccessful nights searching the huge pile of garbage for the woman's remains.

Police then altered their approach, beginning a visual, day-time search for the woman on Sept. 14. Salt Lake police asked for the help of other valley police departments for assistance, with dozens of police officers and firefighters from the area volunteering for the job.

Over the past three weeks, a search team of 20 to 25 people, dressed in overalls and steel-shanked boots, have combed through one-ton sections of garbage with pitchfork-like rakes and sometimes by hand.

Working 10-hour shifts and four-day weeks, searchers have cleared between 300 and 400 tons of garbage daily, said Eslinger, who himself was among the volunteers.

It is believed that the body was located in a portion of the garbage that had not been examined by cadaver dogs, Eslinger said.

The discovery

When the remains were found, investigators placed a 15 foot-by-15-foot, white, tent top over the area and spread out sheetlike cloths to begin processing their findings. The area was processed as any other crime scene would be, with homicide detective and crime lab technicians combing carefully through everything, Eslinger said.

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Dinse said the discovered remains, which appeared to be from a "petite person," did not form a full skeleton, but investigators believed they had "most of the portions of a body."

Friday morning, the discovery filled searchers with hope that they had found what they had been so carefully looking for, Eslinger said.

"We got a good sense that these (remains) would be Lori's, but we were not certain," he said, adding that the efforts of volunteers were largely fueled by their desire to help the Soares family.

"To be able to give them closure is excellent," Dinse said.


E-mail: preavy@desnews.com; jdobner@desnews.com