It’s pretty unlikely, 18 years after a murder, that a body will be found.
In fact, during a Henry County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, County Attorney Darin Stater confirmed that in the case of Elizabeth Syperda, her body was never recovered yet her estranged husband, Michael Syperda is facing charges of first degree murder.
In previous interviews with The News, Stater and Ryan Kedley, acting special agent in charge with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, had no comment when asked if a body had been found.
Elizabeth was last seen in Mt. Pleasant on July 16, 2000. She was reported missing two days later by her roommate at the time. Her estranged husband was arrested in Colorado and charged with her murder on Nov. 30, 2017. The arrest warrant was issued out of an indictment after the grand jury convened, reviewing Elizabeth’s case and reclassifying it as a homicide investigation this past March.
When it comes to no body cases, there is typically a different form of compelling evidence presented that leads to a charge, said Tad DiBiase, former Assistant U.S. Attorney and author of the blog nobodymurdercases.com. This is what he calls the three quantums of evidence.
In a phone interview with The News, DiBiase explained how the three quantums of evidence can be used to convict an alleged murderer, even though no body was found. The first is forensic evidence such as fibers, hair, gunshot residue or other trace evidence. The second is the defendant has confessed to a friend, family member or a jailhouse snitch somewhere along the way. The third is that the defendant confessed to the police.
“Most no body cases have one of those three,” DiBiase said. “Some have none, some have all of that. In your typical no body case, you don’t have witnesses.”
Cell tower evidence is another possible form of evidence strong enough to charge a suspect. DiBiase explained that although cell tower records don’t provide an exact location, they are pretty good about giving a general location in a small area. “Cell tower technology is pretty well accepted in courtrooms,” he said.
In DiBiase’s experience, the conviction rate of no body cases that have gone to trial is 88 percent. “That’s a surprisingly high conviction rate,” he said. “If you have a weak missing person case, you’re not going to take it to trial because chances are small you’ll get a conviction.”
In cases such as Elizabeth’s, DiBiase said the husband is the most logical suspect. DiBiase said that over half the cases resembling Elizabeth’s are domestic violence cases, adding that just because the suspect seems fairly obvious, it doesn’t mean that person committed the crime.”
“When you have a woman who’s been killed, the most logical person is going to be a spouse, lover, girlfriend, boyfriend, but typically in a missing person case you’re going to have more evidence than just that,” he said.
DiBiase said that after 18 years, it is highly unlikely a body would ever be found, especially in a climate like Iowa. In this case, DiBiase would not advise police and prosecutors to look for a body. They could find bones or teeth, but as time goes on, it gets a lot harder. However, there is a chance of finding the person’s clothes or other belongings that could be tied to them.
In the 500 cases DiBiase has worked on, there were only two where there was potential for the victims to be alive. “There’s more evidence that the person who came back and was alive was actually an impostor,” DiBiase said, adding it’s very unlikely someone missing for this long turns up alive. “I heard of a case in China and another in Australia where the person was found alive, but it’s virtually unheard of in the U.S.”
Half of the no body cases DiBiase has worked on have occurred since 2000, although he has also consulted on cases going back to the 1800s. With advances in DNA evidence plus the use of social media and the electronic records people leave behind, the time frame between when someone goes missing and when there’s a trial is greatly decreasing, DiBiase said.
The challenge for prosecutors in no body cases is to choose jurors who don’t believe a case can’t be made without a body.
“Can you prove a murder without a body? Six out of 10 people say of course you can’t,” DiBiase said. “But there’s no place you can’t make a no body case in the U.S. anymore.”