COLON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) - Another fruitless search for the body of Venus Stewart was conducted Thursday near where she disappeared in St. Joseph County, a week after a Michigan State Police cadaver dog pointed to several leads.
She was last seen on April 26, 2010 at her parents' home in Colon Township, where she had been staying with her two children while her estranged husband Doug remained at their apartment in Newport News, Virginia.
The three-hour search in the St. Joseph River, which runs right behind Venus Stewart's parents' home, was conducted Thursday morning. It was searched by foot, boat and helicopter in the days and months following her disappearance.
MSP searched it again because cadaver dogs identified three possible spots along the river where a body may have been.
The river is currently several feet lower than it was when Venus disappeared. Locals said it's at the lowest point it's been in years -- less than knee high in places.
MSP Det. Sgt. Todd Petersen said that the low river level made it difficult for the divers to use some of their equipment -- but made it easier to see in the murky waters.
The divers didn't find anything in the river, and said the cadaver dog hits could have been from rotting animal flesh like from a deer carcass.
"I'm disappointed, but kind of relieved that she isn't so close to home," said Mary McComb Hopkins, Venus' aunt. "I was hoping that this part would be done with."
When 24 Hour News 8 asked the MSP if this means they are convinced Venus' remains are not in the river, Petersen replied, "I don't think you could ever say you know an entire river -- it would take too much man power. But we try to focus on a larger area, around those specific points where we get those indications, and we try to turn over every rock. I think we've gone as far as we possibly can for that area."
McComb Hopkins said she and Venus' friends are admittedly disappointed by the fact this search revealed nothing and it makes it difficult to know where to look next.
"Every place we search could be searched again," said McComb Hopkins. "You see something different every time you go back the other way. It's such a wide area -- it is a needle in a haystack."
But even though Venus' aunt admits that her niece would probably be the first to say she should stop searching and move on -- she said she just can't as long as she knows Venus is out there.
"Everybody says, you know, that she's in heaven, the body's just remains, but it's different when you don't have that final goodbye," said McComb Hopkins.
In April 2011, Doug Stewart was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after being convicted of her murder.
At his sentencing, Prosecutor John McDonough said that if Stewart had "any goodness in his heart, please tell us where his wife's body is. Please do the right thing for those two little girls."
Stewart maintains his innocence. He is appealing his conviction Aug. 8 in Grand Rapids.
A number of searches have been conducted in the two years since Venus Stewart went missing. The Michigan State Police said they are eager to get the case closed for her family, but have no other plans to search again until and unless they get another credible tip.
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