Estimated read time: 10-11 minutes
OGDEN — A man with a distinctive stammer phoned police 34 years ago and claimed to have found a body in the mountains near Causey, a reservoir on the South Fork of the Ogden River.
"I didn't touch the body or anything because I didn't want to get fingerprints on it, OK," the man told a dispatcher, "but I noticed there was a purse there."
The man refused to identify himself or provide more specific information about where police might find the body, saying only that it was two to three miles back from the reservoir. The man hung up when a Weber County dispatcher told him she needed to put him in touch with an investigator.
"Well, just a minute now," the man said. "I have other things to do, you know. I'm not interested in meeting search parties or anything like that."
Police have never identified the caller or located the body he reported finding. At least one former investigator believes tracking down the remains could hold the key to closing at least one decades-old missing persons cold case.
"She's there," said former Weber County Sheriff's Lt. Rod Layton. "I still believe to this day that she's there."
The circumstances of the anonymous call are resurfacing for the first time in more than 30 years as part of KSL's investigative podcast series "Cold."
The Causey body
The anonymous caller actually made two separate calls on April 3, 1987. The first went to police in Roy. A dispatcher there advised the man to phone the Weber County Sheriff's Office, since Roy police wouldn't have jurisdiction over remains discovered in the mountains.
The second call, to Weber County, was captured on tape. In it, the man said he'd observed a purse next to the body. He also said he'd found the body, which he believed to be female, while searching for "sediments." He told the dispatcher he would need to use a geologic map to find the spot again.
"It's probably going to take half an hour to give you directions," the man had said.
In the weeks that followed, Sheriff's Lt. Archie Smith shared details of the recording with reporters in hopes it would spur the caller into coming forward. The sheriff's office also staged multiple searches of the area surrounding Causey during the spring and summer of 1987. Neither approach led to the recovery of the remains or identification of the caller.
The following year, Smith became aware of a man named Murray Miron who was an expert in the field of psycholinguistics. Miron had advised the FBI in a number of prominent cases and claimed an ability to profile a person based on their vocabulary and speech traits. Smith sent Miron a letter, along with a copy of the anonymous call recording.
"We searched the area three times with a large force and were still unable to locate a body," Smith wrote. "Maybe you can tell us a little about the person and how we can go about locating him."
Miron responded with a letter of his own a few months later, in November of 1988. His analysis of the recording suggested the caller was "a high-school educated, white male approximately between the ages of 45 and 60."
He further said the caller seemed truthful in the report, but showed "little moral outrage or indignation regarding the fate of the victim or interest in seeing her killer brought to justice."
Miron suggested police again publicize the call, along with a statement that the caller is not suspected of any wrongdoing. Police did so, as evidenced by a Dec. 13, 1988, news story aired by KSL TV. The news coverage did not lead to the identity of the caller.
Utah Crime Solvers
Rod Layton, then a detective, inherited the case from Lt. Smith in 1989. He was familiar with the area around Causey, having spent time there as a boy. He knew searches of the rugged canyons behind Causey would likely prove fruitless due to the steep and craggy terrain.
"I thought, 'I've got to find the caller. There's just no way that we're going to be able to do this without that caller,'" Layton said.
Layton approached an organization called Utah Crime Solvers and requested help creating a public service announcement to be played on TV. Crime Solvers worked with the Weber County Sheriff's Office and Utah Department of Public Safety to produce a minute-long segment that aired during the winter of 1989. It featured a re-enactment of the body's discovery and a clip of the anonymous call.
The publicity resulted in a surge of tips. Layton went to work pursuing them. Over the next few years, he and other detectives identified and visited a large number of people who fit the profile of the anonymous caller.
"After hundreds and hundreds of these, I never found the caller," Layton said.
The investigators who spent years hunting for the caller had differing opinions as to whether or not the man had actually come across the remains while searching for sediments, as he'd claimed.
"There's been some that believe that that was not his true intent for being in the Causey area," Layton said. "But that area up there is just rich in geological formations. … There's little canyons that go up and then there's ledges of shale rock. And so they'll go up and they'll chip away at these little shale pieces and they'll find fossils."
Alternative explanations arose to explain the caller's reticence. One considered the fact that the deep canyons behind Causey reservoir have in the past served as fertile ground for clandestine marijuana gardens.
"So that theory came up a number of times: he was just up there checking his marijuana patch, found the body and then went 'OK, I can't report this,'" Layton said.
Another possible explanation involved the idea the caller might have been illegally pursuing deer or elk.
"There's a pretty sizable elk herd right up in that area so it's pretty popular for elk hunting," Layton said.
Causey Reservoir sits on public land in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. It is bounded on the east by private land, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, through its subsidiary, Farmland Reserve, Inc. Elk herds frequent that land, which is managed for both wildlife habitat and livestock ranching.
"People would try to go from the public land over the fence onto this private property," Layton said. "So when guides did that or hunters did that, they were very hesitant to say 'Oh yeah, I was hunting.'"
"Cold's" second season focuses on the August 1985 disappearance of Joyce Yost from South Ogden. Some have speculated the unrecovered remains reported by the caller could belong to Yost.
Yost had been preparing to testify against Douglas Lovell in a rape case when she disappeared. A jury convicted Lovell of sexually assaulting Yost, even though the trial was held in her absence. Years later, in 1991, Lovell's ex-wife Rhonda Buttars told police Lovell had taken Yost "up by Causey" and killed her there, leaving Yost's body and purse in the mountains.
Buttars wore a hidden recording device into the Utah State Prison in 1992. That audio, obtained by "Cold," included multiple mentions of the anonymous caller.
"The only thing I'm nervous about is that one time that caller called in," Lovell said. "I remember seeing it on TV."
Lovell admitted to killing Yost in 1993. He at the time claimed to have left Yost's body at a different location, below Snowbasin ski resort. An exhaustive search of that area by law enforcement failed to turn up any sign of Yost's remains or her purse.
Lovell's father also owned a cabin property at Sunridge Highlands, a private landowner association accessed using the same highway that leads to Causey. Lovell was known to visit the cabin during the months prior to Yost's disappearance.
Another prominent theory centers on the idea the body could be that of Sheree Warren, a missing woman from Roy, who disappeared less than two months after Yost. Police believe Warren is dead but have never been able to locate her remains.
Documents obtained by "Cold" through an open records request reveal the initial detective assigned to Warren's case received information that Warren's boyfriend, Cary Hartmann, was spotted in Guildersleeve Canyon southeast of Causey just days following her disappearance.
The records show another source told police he'd loaned Hartmann a key to the gate for Causey Estates, a cabin community adjacent to the reservoir, a few weeks before Warren disappeared. Hartmann denied this in an Oct. 26, 2005, interview with investigators.
Hartmann was incarcerated in 1987 following a conviction for rape. He has repeatedly told investigators he does not know what happened to Warren. The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole released Hartmann from custody in 2020.
Anything left to find?
It's not clear how long the body reportedly found by the anonymous caller had been in place prior to its discovery. The caller had simply described the body as "decayed" in his initial call to police. Now, more than 34 years later, decomposition would likely have left little more than skeletal remains to find.
Still, Layton believes recovery and identification of the remains is possible with a little luck.
"I just think one of these days somebody's going to come across it," Layton said. "The purse isn't going to disintegrate."
There is reason behind that hope. Just one year prior to the anonymous call, in 1986, a cougar hunter located a set of skeletal remains under a rock overhang along the Right Fork South Fork Ogden River east of Causey. Weber County deputies, including Layton, went to recover the remains and located a wallet containing a faded Utah driver license.
"We had to wipe some chemicals on the front of it. It was clouded over. It was just white and we just took a few chemicals and wiped over it and it just cleared right off and there he was, " Layton said.
The license allowed deputies to identify the remains as those of Rudolph Bertagnole, a man who'd disappeared into a snowstorm while hunting in Guildersleeve Canyon during October of 1943. A detective located and notified Bertagnole's widow. She traveled up to Causey Dam and KSL TV's Chopper 5 flew her from that point to the location where Layton and the other deputies were at the time gathering the remains.
"They were right in the middle of the canyon and they just hovered," Layton recalled. "She could look right in and say 'there it is.'"
The deputies believed Bertagnole had become disoriented in the snow, hiked north over a ridge and taken shelter under the overhang where he then died. His remains went undisturbed and undiscovered for nearly 43 years.
Last call for the anonymous caller
Layton harbors less hope the anonymous caller will ever be identified.
"I've lost a little faith in that," Layton said. "Maybe things have changed and with social media and stuff like that, that may be a way to approach this again."
"Cold" sought to obtain a complete copy of the anonymous call recording. Multiple public records requests to various agencies all received the same response: the audio recording could not be located.
"We're not sure where the original tape is, so we've kind of lost access to that voice," Layton said.
The investigation into the anonymous call remains open and in the hands of the Weber County Attorney's Office.
Listen to the full episode
Season 2 of the "Cold" podcast will take you inside the no-body homicide investigation triggered by Yost's disappearance. Audio tapes never before made public will allow you to hear Yost, in her own voice, describe the events which preceded her death.
You will learn why police suspected one man, Douglas Lovell, yet were unable to arrest him at the time. And you will see how some individuals and institutions gave — and continue to give — Lovell every opportunity to evade the ultimate penalty.
Hear Joyce Yost's voice for the first time in the "Cold" podcast season 2, available to listen free on Amazon Music.
Free resources and help for those who have suffered sexual abuse are available 24/7 at RAINN.org. You can also call 800-856-HOPE (4673).