A Tooele woman who disappeared in July may have been found by a troop of Boy Scouts Saturday.
The troop was hiking in Middle Canyon in the Butterfield Pass area at about noon when they spotted a red Ford Escape in the woods. Following the wreckage of the SUV, which had apparently gone down a slope, they came across human remains.
Those remains are likely those of Jane Ashby, 62, who drove off in her red 2011 Ford Escape on July 31, reportedly to go to a work meeting in American Fork. No work meeting, however, was scheduled.
Ashby reportedly had health problems and other struggles in her personal life, leading family and investigators to consider the possibility that she may have harmed herself.
The Tooele City Police Department investigated her disappearance, tracking her last purchase—a bottle of bleach and a jug of drain cleaner—from Tooele’s Walmart shortly after leaving her home. Pinging her cell phone resulted in two hits, one from a cell tower in American Fork and one in Draper, but were not precise enough to give officers much to go on.
Meanwhile, Ashby’s family and friends had begun to search for her, spreading awareness and rallying support through the media and Facebook.
Although the investigation into Ashby’s disappearance was under the purview of the Tooele City Police Department, the discovery fell to the Tooele County Sheriff’s Office because of the vehicle and body’s location in Middle Canyon.
Tooele County Sheriff Frank Park said the body had been ejected from the vehicle as it fell down a slope more than 1,000 yards off of one of Middle Canyon’s switchbacks. The area is not heavily traveled, he said, and there are even wrecks of other vehicles from years past that could not be removed.
Despite speculation about Ashby potentially mixing the bleach and drain cleaner in her vehicle as a means of suicide, Park said no trace of chlorine gas has been found in the vehicle so far in the investigation. He added even if the noxious fumes had been present they would have dissipated long ago.
Park said much of the investigation hinges on the results of an autopsy from the state medical examiner’s office. The results of that should include toxicology, as well as a definite identification, and will hopefully paint a clearer picture of the crash and what killed the person inside the SUV, he said.
“That will answer all of the questions you have and we have,” he said. “Even sheer speculation on about how long, we’ll get those answers, but even that answer from the medical examiner’s office will have a pretty large window. Their investigation and their office is going to answer a lot of questions.”
An autopsy by a medical examiner will be required to definitively identify the human remains, but Capt. Paul Wimmer of the Tooele City Police Department said the items found around the body, including Ashby’s purse, and Ashby’s SUV, are strong suggestions of identification.
“We felt comfortable telling the family because there’s just no evidence that suggests it would be anybody else,” he said. “Until we’re told otherwise, we feel comfortable saying it is Jane Ashby and that she was recovered.”
Ashby’s daughter, Michelle Graves, said the discovery, while not confirmed as of press time Tuesday, brought mixed feelings.
“It is hard, but in a lot of ways it’s a relief not having to worry and wonder,” she said. “It kind of feels a little unreal, just because it was so long she was gone; it’s kind of shocking. It definitely feels like a relief to know what happened.”
Graves said the family’s task now is to come to terms with that knowledge.
“We’re still working on [closure]. I think when we are able to do a funeral service and those things that the closure will come,” she said. “My mom will be really missed, not just by me but by a lot of people. She was so generous and caring and loving to everybody and a lot of people loved her and will miss her. She was really dependable and charitable and her life was all about other people, not about her.”