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Bones are human, but not little girl's

The bones found in February were suspected to be those of a 3-year-old who disappeared in 1991.

By JAMIE JONES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 4, 2002

BROOKSVILLE -- Sheriff's investigators have determined that bones found in a wooded lot west of Brooksville are human.

But they're not the remains of a 3-year-old girl who has been missing for more than 10 years. They're of an adult whose identity is unknown.

The bone fragments were found in February by a Michigan cadaver dog whose handler is under investigation by the FBI for possibly planting evidence at crime scenes. She has not been charged and calls the allegations "ludicrous."

Sheriff's Lt. Joe Paez said investigators have sent the bone fragments to the FBI as part of an ongoing investigation.

The Sheriff's Office in January received a tip that 3-year-old Megan LeeAnn Pratt had been burned and buried behind a Pointview Road trailer in 1991.

Authorities said the girl's stepfather, Jesse Schober of South Carolina, admitted to inflicting abuse that led to Megan's death. Investigators believe Schober and his wife at the time, Vickie, burned and buried Megan behind their trailer.

For weeks, crime scene technicians and investigators searched for Megan's grave. They used ground-penetrating radar, had inmates clear the land and used search dogs but found nothing.

Detectives' last hope was a Michigan woman named Sandra Anderson and her bone-sniffing dog, Eagle.

Eagle's sense of smell was reportedly so keen that he could find otherwise undetectable bones.

Anderson brought her dog to the scene in February and, within minutes, he pinpointed bone fragments that were sent for tests at the Medical Examiner's Office in Leesburg and the C.A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Experts have determined that the bones belonged to an adult and could not have been Megan, Paez said.

"Now we have bones and we don't know where they came from," he said.

Investigators will wait until the FBI is finished before dealing with the mystery bones.

The FBI began investigating Anderson after law enforcement agents questioned her work.

She helped the Oscoda Township Police in Michigan find bones in Huron National Forest during a missing person investigation.

The police were searching for the remains of a 20-year-old woman who disappeared in 1980. The fragments found by Anderson's dog were from two different humans, but not the missing girl.

Anderson on Thursday said she has never planted evidence.

She said during most of her searches, she finds nothing, and should not take the blame when her dog does not find exactly what authorities are looking for.

"I have a great deal of support from law enforcement and the forensic community," she said. "I think that speaks for itself."

As for Megan's case, no one has been charged.

Assistant State Attorney Don Scaglione said other forensic evidence is still under review.

Because Megan is believed to have died in 1991, the statute of limitations has run out on potentially applicable charges such as second-degree murder, manslaughter and aggravated child abuse.

Scaglione can only consider first-degree murder and would have to prove premeditation or aggravated child abuse.

"I have no time frame," Scaglione said. "What everyone wants in this case is for justice to be served, and, sometimes, justice takes a long time."

Meanwhile, those who remember little Megan wait.

"It just doesn't seem right that people could do this to a child and get away with it," said 57-year-old Sarah Mowery of South Carolina, who thinks she is the girl's grandmother. "I can't picture that any child could have done anything so bad that she should have been punished like this."

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