When killers turn a land­fill into a ceme­tery

The Arizona Republic - - Valley & State - E.J. Mon­tini Colum­nist Ari­zona Re­pub­lic USA TO­DAY NET­WORK Reach Mon­tini at 602-444-8978 or ed.mon­tini@ari­zonare­pub­lic.com

It should not be a holy place. It’s a dump. A garbage heap. A refuse pile. A … ceme­tery.

So, yes, the But­ter­field Sta­tion Land­fill about 35 miles south­west of Phoenix is a holy place.

It has been a holy place for over 20 years. Th­ese days, po­lice are care­fully sift­ing through an area of the land­fill that is roughly the size of a foot­ball field, dig­ging down 14 feet, in hopes of find­ing the re­mains of a young mother named Chris­tine Mustafa.

She has been miss­ing since May 10. Her live-in boyfriend has been charged with her mur­der. Searchers have found noth­ing yet. They rarely do.

I was at the land­fill in 1996 when a dif­fer­ent group of searchers were sift­ing through a dif­fer­ent part of the land­fill look­ing for the re­mains of 13-year-old Brad Hansen.

He was shot to death by a friend. They were said to have ar­gued over a 12-year-old girl. Brad’s body was placed in a trash bin. The boy who killed him even­tu­ally was locked up. The search for Brad went on for a long time, but he was not found.

A few years after that po­lice were again at the land­fill. They’d come to be­lieve it is the fi­nal rest­ing place of a woman named Cookie Ja­cob­son. Her 16-year-old son claimed to have found his mother dead in bed and that, along with his younger sis­ter, wrapped Cookie in a bed sheet and put her in a garbage con­tainer.

The boy said he was afraid po­lice might blame him for his mother death. There came a time when they did sus­pect him, but without a body the case could not be made. Cookie was never found. No one has been brought to jus­tice for her death.

An­other search of the land­fill oc­curred when Glendale po­lice de­cided they might find the body of 5-year-old Jhessye Shock­ley among all the trash we have dis­carded.

Jhessye’s mother, Jerice Hunter, was con­victed of killing the lit­tle girl, stuff­ing her body in a suit­case and toss­ing it into a garbage bin.

The girl’s re­mains, like the oth­ers, were never found.

The first time I was at But­ter­field Sta­tion, all those years ago, I was told that when we have sent as much of our food scraps, pack­ing ma­te­rial, chunks of con­crete, dry­wall and old roof­ing shin­gles, dis­pos­able di­a­pers, bro­ken toys, used ra­zors and so on that the square-mile land­fill can ac­com­mo­date, the great mound of trash will be a slop­ing 170-foot hill, cov­ered over with soil and grass. I climbed part of it.

The view from the slopes was lovely. In one di­rec­tion were the Mari­copa Moun­tains. In the other the jagged Sierra Estrella. All around there is farm­land and desert.

When the big ma­chines aren’t run­ning it’s quiet. Peace­ful. It was never meant to be a grave­yard. It should not be a holy place.

It is.

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