EAST LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) - Botanists from Michigan State University, the Chicago Field Museum and a team of trained volunteers will head out Friday into the woods surrounding Ludington in hopes of finding 11 specific plants that could lead to the discovery of 4-month-old Baby Kate's body.
Katherine Phillips was last seen on June 29, 2011, according to police. Her father Sean Phillips was later convicted of unlawful imprisonment in connection to her disappearance, after which authorities said they were treating the case as a homicide investigation.
Now, authorities are looking for plants that match matter found on Phillips' shoes. They put out a request in April for botanists to help in the search.
"We had a total of 11 different species that we were able to identify that were from plant fragment and fruit and soil fragment that were stuck to his shoes," said Dr. Frank Telewski, Professor of Plant Biology and curator at the W.J. Beal Botanical Gardens at Michigan State University.
Telewski believes the searches on Friday and Saturday will help investigators focus their search on specific areas.
"I think that what we are going to find out is that when you have this many players, plant species, that I think the area is going to be whittled down to a handful," he said.
"We're not looking specifically for any remains of Baby Kate," Telewski went on to clarify. "The team will be instructed. if they find anything that looks like bones or animal remains, to call that in to one of the key group leaders."
Prior visits to Ludington by Telewski have already helped investigators rule some areas out.
"We have been able to eliminate certain sites and certain localities," he said.
Some of the possible locations suggested by the defense in Phillips' trial have also been ruled out because not all 11 plant species grow in those specific areas.
"There were ideas put forth by the defense that certain areas may have been involved, and by looking at the community of vegetation in that area made it clear that whether or not that was even a possibility," said Peter Carrington, Assistant Curator of the W. J. Beal Botanical Gardens at Michigan State University.
Experts showed 24 Hour News 8 some of the plant samples that Telewski took from Ludington a few weeks ago and brought back to East Lansing, which look almost identical to the untrained eye.
"When you see this plant like this without the fruit, without the flower, how do you tell it from these other two? I mean, look at how similar they are," said Telewski.
Friday's search will mark the two-year anniversary of Baby Kate's disappearance. Telewski said that is exactly why authorities picked Friday and Saturday to do the search.
"We want the same, what we call in botany, is the same phenology, the same phenological period that the plants were in when they appeared in the soil samples on the shoe."
Phenology is the study of the timing of natural recurring cycles, like flowering and migration.
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