Murder of Jessica Phelps remains mystery after two decades - WNEM TV 5

Murder of Jessica Phelps remains mystery after two decades

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FLINT, MI (WNEM) -

Angie Spade is lost in a nightmare reliving a day 20 years ago when 4-year-old Jessica Phelps disappeared.

"We had hoped she just wandered away maybe got turnaround, or maybe she was scared or lost,” Spade said.

Now she clings to the memories of her cousin Jessica, not knowing back then that the picture would be their last.

"We really just held out hope that she would be found and that someone had her and we would get her back safe,” Spade said.

Days, weeks and months passed have passed since July 1, 1997 when Jessica vanished from their east side Flint home.

There were countless searches high and low and fliers blowing in the wind on every corner as seasons changed, but no one could find Jessica.

"As the time kept passing and it got to be winter, and we still didn't have any solid leads of where she might be, hope starts to diminish but you still hold out a little bit of hope,” Spade said.

As the snow melted and the spring thaw began, a discovery was made 15 miles away in the remote landscape of Atlas Township - bones of a small child lying on the cold wet ground.

"There's a cross tube that comes from across the road, and that's what we were looking for when we found her,” Rick Schmaltz said.

Schmaltz was excavating along the stretch of Horton Road for a county ditch project when he discovered the remains.

He said he’ll never forget the images of April 2, 1998.

"I remember a blue shirt, with a pink...ballerina type thing I guess what it was,” Schmaltz said.

He immediately radioed out, the call traveling over the airwaves with the news spreading fast.

"When we got the call that they had found the remains of a small child, we just had that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach,” Spade said.

Two days later that feeling was no longer a sinking suspicion.

A pathologist positively identified the remains as Jessica Phelps.

"We knew it was her and everybody just burst into tears,” Spade said.

Tears turned into questions: Why? How? Who would kill a 4-year-old girl?

"I don't think in all of the murder cases I did, which were hundreds, that we ever went to the extent that we did to preserve one particular scene the way we did in this case,” Arthur Busch said.

Busch, a former Genesee County prosecutor, said no stone went unturned.

"The police had some hunches as to who they thought it might be, but we were never able to find what I thought was a suspect that left some trail or something we could work with,” Busch said.

"You look at people and you think, ‘That person may have been involved,’ or ‘That person may have been involved.’ Especially at the beginning. I would hate to think so, but anything is possible,” Spade said.

Who could've possibly known to dump her body so far from home?

"Down here in the weeds, you can see how much lower it is, even someone walking by would never see it,” Schmaltz said.

How did no one see anything when Jessica vanished?

"They’re hiding something, and you can't live with that guilt forever I would imagine, anybody with a conscience,” Schmaltz said.

Not knowing is the worst part for Spade.

She knows her little angel is flying free.

"I have to think that maybe somebody's circumstances have changed and maybe they were afraid to come forward at the time or maybe they thought that little piece of info was insignificant, and maybe now they will realize it's the missing piece,” she said.

Spade said she has no plans of going anywhere. She will remain grounded until the day she finds justice for Jessica.

If you have any information that can help investigators, please call the Flint Police Department at (810) 237-6800.

Click here to learn more about the Justice for Jessica Facebook page.

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