When killers turn a landfill into a cemetery
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.