Investigators Study Body Believed to Be Missing College Student

Investigators worked Tuesday to identify a decomposed body found in rural Wisconsin that is believed to be a missing college student and to gather evidence that could lead to her killer.

A team of experts on the scene included a forensic entomologist who was trying to determine how long the body had been there by studying insects on it, Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said.

A forensic dentist and a forensic anthropologist were working to identify the body, which police said Monday was probably that of missing University of Wisconsin-Whitewater student Kelly Nolan, 22.

While the forensic experts worked, a team of police officers were on their hands and knees searching the grassy areas near the body for evidence, DeSpain said.

Nolan vanished early June 23 after a night of drinking at bars in downtown Madison, where she was living for the summer in a subleased apartment. She split up with her friends and was seen at several bars after midnight before she vanished.

Police said cell-phone technology led them to mount Monday's massive search in a wooded area 10 miles south of Madison with more than 100 officers and canines trained to recognize Nolan's scent.

The discovery of the body in a wooded area on private property transformed the case from a search for Nolan to a hunt for who murdered her. Police have no suspects so far.

"Hopefully this forensic information coupled together with the tips that are coming in will lead us to a suspect," DeSpain said.

Dane County Coroner John Stanley has said the body was in the wooded area "for an extended period of time" and remained there Tuesday. The body could be taken to a morgue later Tuesday for an autopsy, DeSpain said.

Aric Dutelle, a former death investigator who teaches forensic investigation courses at UW-Platteville, said outdoor crime scenes are tremendously more complex, take longer to process and make bodies harder to identify.

"Insects, scavengers, the environment, those all play heavily into the complexity," he said. "And the general clutter — undergrowth and overgrowth. You don't have that in a living room or a bedroom or a kitchen."

The condition of the body means that authorities will have to match dental records or perform "some sort of test" to make a positive identification, DeSpain said.

Dutelle said the forensic anthropologist could help by establishing a biological profile of the person, including the sex, height, weight, hair color and other identifying features.

"They are brought in when identification of the deceased is very difficult because of its advanced state of decomposition," he said. "In a high humidity environment such as Wisconsin, decomposition occurs rapidly. It's often difficult to judge the sex or race of an individual."

He said the entomologist may be able to establish an approximate time of death and whether the body had been transported from somewhere else by studying the insects around the body. Flies, beetles and other bugs inhabit a decomposing body at different times, he said.

"You get a timeline for how long they have been involved in the decomposition process and whether or not those insects present are indigenous to that area," he said.

Some forensic evidence has already been sent to the state crime lab for testing, which Madison police asked to be expedited, DeSpain said.

Nolan's family, including her mother and two sisters, asked the media Tuesday to refrain from contacting them. The family had pleaded with the public for information on Nolan's whereabouts and offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to her return.

The body was found 110 feet outside of Fitchburg in the Township of Dunn, according to Lt. Todd Stetzer of the Fitchburg police.'s Adam Riback contributed to this story