‘Remains were buried,’ moved: Fruitland police update Michael Vaughan case, seek 2 men

Idaho

This backyard in Fruitland, pictured on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, was excavated to search for human remains related to the missing child case of Michael Vaughan. | Sarah A. Miller, Idaho Statesman

FRUITLAND (Idaho Statesman) — Three weeks after excavating property to search for human remains, Fruitland Police Chief JD Huff said Thursday that authorities believe Michael Vaughan, who disappeared at age 5 in July 2021, was once buried at the site but then his body was moved.

Huff released some new details related to the boy’s case at a press conference, and said that anyone who was involved in Michael’s abduction or hindered law enforcement’s investigation “will be pursued.”

Huff said police received a credible tip that the boy’s remains could be found in the backyard of a residence on Redwing Street, not far from where he lived. Police later obtained a search warrant for the residence, serving it Nov. 11.

With the help of Idaho State Police, the Fruitland Fire Department and Mountain Search and Rescue, Fruitland police excavated the yard. After deploying ground-penetrating radar, and removing and sifting 250 yards of dirt, Huff said cadaver dogs at the scene alerted officials to human remains. However, none were found.

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“Although the remains of Michael Vaughan were not recovered, we strongly believe based on evidence that Michael was abducted and is deceased, and that his remains were buried and later moved from the property,” Huff said. “As of today, the whereabouts of his remains are unknown.”

On Friday, Fruitland police plan to use radar in a search in a yard next to the Redwing residence, Huff said. He indicated that police did not obtain a search warrant because the residents there consented to the search.

RELATED | Woman appears in court for failure to report death in case of missing Idaho boy

POLICE MADE ONE ARREST, ARE LOOKING FOR 2 MEN

Fruitland police have made one arrest related to the investigation.

Sarah Wondra, 35, one of the known occupants of the Redwing Street residence — about a half-mile from where Michael lived — was arrested and charged with a felony, failure to report a death. She has since been declared mentally unfit to proceed in court.

Huff said he believes Wondra and her husband, Stacey Wondra, 30, have knowledge of what happened to Michael, and went as far as to say they “were involved in the abduction.” Neither has been charged.

Stacey Wondra is in custody at the Washington County Jail on unrelated charges, Huff said; online records do not indicate what the charges are.

Fruitland police also said Thursday that they are looking for two men who at one time lived with the Wondras, during Michael’s disappearance. Police said they think one man is now in North Dakota and the other in Ohio. They were not named specifically as suspects, but Huff said he thinks they have “firsthand knowledge of Michael’s abduction.”

Huff said he was urging the two men to reach out to Fruitland detectives “as the window of time for talking in cooperation is coming to a close.”

Police named the men and used their photos, but the Idaho Statesman is not naming them because they have not been specifically identified as suspects or charged with a crime.

AS INVESTIGATION CONTINUES, POLICE ASK PUBLIC TO COME FORWARD

Huff said the department has received almost 1,500 tips about Michael’s disappearance, and he believes there are others with information who have yet to speak with detectives.

“When we finally reach the conclusion of this investigation, I can assure you, all of those who have knowledge of Michael’s disappearance and have failed to report or hindered our investigation will be pursued,” he said.

Michael Vaughan went missing from his front yard in Fruitland on July 27, 2021. The blond-haired, blue-eyed boy weighed about 50 pounds and was 3 feet, 7 inches tall.

Anyone with information on Michael’s disappearance is asked to contact Fruitland police at findmichael@fruitland.org or Crime Stoppers at 208-343-COPS (208-343-2677).

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