"She knew the guy for years."
A Florida woman missing for a week has been found in her own septic tank.
Cynthia Cole, 57, was found “submerged in the contents of the tank about four feet underground” in her back yard by police on Friday night.
Her handyman, 34-year-old Keoki Hilo Demich, whom she had known for years, has been arrested and charged with her murder.
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Cole had last been seen at the Jammin Jensen festival in Jensen Beach with friends on February 24; she left that night headed for home — and was never seen again.
Friends became concerned when Cole — who was “pretty good with her routines” — began missing appointments, and alerted Martin County Sheriff’s Office, who put out a missing persons bulletin.
Detectives went to her home, where they noticed she was having renovations done, building an extension for a bed & breakfast, but nothing else out of the ordinary: no signs of a break-in or any violence.
They were just about to leave the property, when one “extremely alert” detective happened to look down, and noticed something odd about a cover on the septic tank.
“He noticed that the bolts holding that riser down didn’t look right,” Sheriff William Snyder told WPTV. “The dirt was away from them, and I think a couple of them were loose.”
“He just keeled down, undid that riser, pulled it back and, unfortunately… he did discover the body of our victim.”
Recovering the remains — which were submerged in “all the effluent that comes with that sort of system” — while trying to preserve evidence, Sheriff Snyder said, was a grisly challenge.
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“It was probably as challenging a crime scene as I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I’ve been doing this 40+ years, I’ve never seen anything like it. We had no collective — none of us had any experience in recovering evidence from a septic tank.”
“I don’t want to be too graphic – but the opening that we could see her remains were not such that we could have taken her out through that.”
Police had to call in heavy machinery and septic tank experts as they spent all of Friday night into Saturday morning digging around the tank to access it.
Officers had ropes tied around their waists, lowering them into the pit as they tried to recover the body from four feet of waste inside the 900-gallon tank.
“Had they lost their footing — one did lose his footing — but had one of them gone into that, we would have really been in trouble,” the sheriff said. “It took us all night. It was a challenge.”
As nothing of note had happened at the festival — Cole hadn’t even drank — and because she lived alone, investigators began looking for suspects who possibly knew her… and the very first person of interest would quickly become the prime and only suspect.
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“The first person that we really came across that was of interest … was a person she had known, as far as we know, for years. It was a handyman. Somebody who just helped her. She was a single woman alone, he helped her,” Sheriff Snyder said.
“From the minute we began talking to him, or fairly soon after we began talking to him, we became suspicious… We got so suspicious we began doing almost around the clock surveillance.”
Investigators found Cole’s 2015 Gray Jeep Cherokee parked within walking distance of Demich’s house. They said that while he initially denied being anywhere near it — even though video evidence showed him walking away from it — he later admitted driving it.
When detectives asked why he’d been driving the car, he gave them “a bogus excuse.”
They said that during interviews there were many inconsistencies in his story, and he said things they could prove were not true.
“He was a conglomerate of falsehoods,” the Sheriff said.
Asked why authorities first suspected him, Sheriff Snyder replied “Detectives, you don’t want to call it a sixth sense, but they develop a ‘tingle’; and sometimes they just know they are on to something. In this case it was more than that.”
Police do not yet have a motive, although they said the most likely one is robbery.
They also do not know how she was killed, pending autopsy. The Sheriff said they later found evidence she was killed in the house, and subsequently moved to the tank.
According to Sheriff Snyder, one of the most perplexing things about the case — the thing that made them instantly suspect foul play — was that “there was nothing about her life that screamed out she was taking unnecessary risks.”
He said oftentimes, victims of crimes engage in risky behavior, which can be a contributing factor when something bad happens.
“There was nothing about her life to indicate she was a chance-taker,” he said. “She knew the guy for years. She did nothing wrong.”
He said his overriding feeling on the case was one of “profound sadness.”
“Human life is the most valuable thing on Earth, and to see a human being in a septic system, it’s pretty jarring,” he said.
“Whenever I see man’s inhumanity to man — as long as I’ve done this — I’m always taken aback by what people will do.”
Demich is currently charged with second-degree murder, which may be upgraded to first.
He has one prior, for burglary, for which he served prison time, but nothing in his history suggested he was a violent criminal, the sheriff said.
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