SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A man charged with murder in the death of his missing 5-year-old niece has acknowledged doing “something that’s inexcusable” and told police her body is buried less than a block from the girl’s home, his lawyer said Wednesday.
The disclosure came hours after 21-year-old Alex Whipple was charged with murder. Police have said they found the blood of Elizabeth “Lizzy” Shelley on his sweatshirt and his handprint in what appears to be blood on a piece of plastic pipe.
“He knows he did something that’s inexcusable,” said defense attorney Shannon Demler, who led officers to the body using information from his client. “He wanted at least the family to know … she had passed away so that they could get some kind of closure.”
Logan Police Chief Gary Jensen said officers were investigating a credible tip but hadn’t yet recovered the girl’s body.
In previous interviews with police, Whipple didn’t acknowledge involvement in the disappearance but alluded frequently to “how evil the world we live in is” and talked about his struggles as a child, prosecutors said in court documents.
He also told police alcohol makes him “black out” and sometimes do “criminal things,” the documents said.
Whipple was charged with aggravated murder, child kidnapping, obstruction of justice and desecration of a human body, a charge that relates to steps taken to hide the body, Jensen said.
The child’s blood was found on Whipple’s watch and sweatshirt, authorities said, and his handprint was discovered on the PVC pipe. Nearby was a broken knife taken from the family’s kitchen bearing the blood of the girl.
A teal skirt with lace that she was last seen wearing was found “hastily buried” near the pipe and knife, the charges state.
The search for Lizzy began Saturday morning, when her frantic mother Jessica Whipple reported the girl’s bed was empty and the front door was wide open. Also missing was Alex Whipple, who had slept on the couch after a night of drinking with his sister and her boyfriend.
Jessica Whipple didn’t see her younger brother often but decided to help him when he asked her to pick him up, said Bill Whipple, their grandfather.
He said Alex Whipple had a difficult childhood but had never showed violent tendencies.
“I would never, ever in a million years have thought he was capable of harming such a cute little girl,” Bill Whipple said. “I knew he was a thief, but I never labeled him as a murderer.”
Alex Whipple’s mother left the family when he was young, leaving his father to raise three children alone while he worked as a truck driver. The young man spent time in foster homes and didn’t graduate from high school.
Police found him Saturday afternoon about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the family home.
He had a pipe used for narcotics, a beer and a baseball bat, though it’s not thought to be a weapon used on the girl, according to charging documents.
He had blood-colored stains on his pants and “filthy” hands that he attempted to lick clean, police said. After first denying he’d been at his sister’s house, he later said he left in the early morning or a walk alone.
Whipple has a criminal record that includes a 2016 assault, possession of a stolen vehicle and drug-related charges.
He had been on probation and making progress but began missing appointments at the beginning of the year and dropped out of touch in April, a probation agent said in court documents.
The girl disappeared in Logan, a small city located in a picturesque mountain valley near the Idaho border about 80 miles (129 kilometers) north of Salt Lake City.
“This is a 5-year-old girl and she’s still missing and that’s not easy for anybody,” Jensen said, holding back tears. “We want to find her, we want the family to have what they deserve, and that is closure and/or Lizzy back in their home.”
Alex Whipple is scheduled to make a court appearance Monday.
Associated Press writer Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City and researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this story.