Police: Landfill search for missing Phoenix woman starts Monday

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Robert Interval, Mustafa's boyfriend was arrested on charges related to her disappearance. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Robert Interval, Mustafa's boyfriend was arrested on charges related to her disappearance. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Mustafa also disappeared without her 8-month-old baby, who was staying with a caregiver. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Mustafa also disappeared without her 8-month-old baby, who was staying with a caregiver. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The last high-profile case that spawned a landfill search was that of Jhessye Shockley. The little girl vanished in October 2011. Glendale police spent 96 days in early 2012 searching the Butterfield Station. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5 file photo) The last high-profile case that spawned a landfill search was that of Jhessye Shockley. The little girl vanished in October 2011. Glendale police spent 96 days in early 2012 searching the Butterfield Station. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5 file photo)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

The Phoenix Police Department says it’s ready to start searching a Buckeye landfill for the body of a woman who has been missing for months.

Christine Mustafa disappeared on May 10. Her live-in boyfriend, Robert Interval Jr., has been arrested in her presumed death. He pleaded not guilty when he was arraigned in late June.

[ORIGINAL STORY: Phoenix police ask for help finding missing Phoenix mother]

[RELATED: Police arrest boyfriend in missing Phoenix woman case]

[SPECIAL SECTION: Search for missing Phoenix mom Christine Mustafa]

Although Mustafa’s body has not been found, search warrant paperwork says investigators found evidence of blood in the home she and Interval shared.  Documents also say Interval, 37, told police the two had been fighting over his suspicions she was cheating on him.

[RELATED: Documents reveal disturbing details in Phoenix woman's disappearance]

“Detectives from the Phoenix Police Department continued to gather evidence and search numerous locations for Christine's body,” Sgt. Alan Pfohl said in a news release Wednesday. “After exhausting all other possibilities, the detectives concluded that Christine's body is most likely located within a landfill west of Phoenix.”

[RELATED: Police to search landfill for body of missing Phoenix woman]

Teams of about 30 will begin scouring the SR-85 Landfill on West Patterson Road on Monday.

"The people that are doing the searches are coming from all over the department,” Pfohl said. "We have detectives. We have patrols officers. But in addition to Phoenix Police Department, we also have other departments in the Valley and agencies that have volunteered resources for us to include searchers so I’ll have a list of everybody by the time we’re done, but we’re looking at Tempe, Chandler, Mesa, Glendale, FBI, ATF. We’re getting a lot of partners in on this."

"The search area we’re going to be digging is 500 feet by 120 feet and 14 feet deep," he explained. That's an area of 60,000 square feet (almost 1.4 acres) and a volume of 840,000 cubic feet.

“While it is our hope to find her sooner than later, the Phoenix Police Department has allotted nine weeks to conduct the search,” Pfohl said.

The crews will be out every weekday “from daybreak until late afternoon.”

The search will be methodical.

'We are going to be opening any type of container we come across -- mattresses, plastic bags, containers. Anything where her remains can be, we’re going to need check," Pfohl said, explaining that a third-party construction company contracted by the City of Phoenix will be operating the heavy equipment.

Bulldozers will scoop and spread the trash. Searchers in protective gear will sift through it.

"This is going to be a tough dig and when we find her I know it’s going to be tough on whoever finds her," he continued. "The family is probably on pins and needles. I know they want to bring Christine home and so there may be daily phone calls. I would almost expect that."

Operations like this can be a gamble.

"From everything I have heard, these landfill searches have about a 5 percent success rate, so that’s something that we really have to take into consideration -- is it going to be worth our efforts and our monies to do this," Pfohl said. "But because we were able to narrow it down to such a pretty small area and we have a pretty good idea that she’s going to be there, I think it really outweighed the other things. ... We’re really positive we’re going to find her. We’re very hopeful we’re going to find her." 

This is not the first time investigators have pinned their hopes on an operation like the one that starts Monday.

The last high-profile case that spawned a landfill search was that of Jhessye Shockley. The little girl vanished in October 2011. Glendale police spent 96 days in early 2012 searching the Butterfield Station in Mobile for the 5-year-old’s body. They never found it.

Despite that, Jhessye’s mother, Jerice Hunter, was convicted of murder in April 2015 and eventually sentenced to life in prison without parole. 

[RELATED: Attorneys weigh in on challenges of having no body in a murder trial (March 25, 2015)]

Like prosecutors in that case, lawyers who will be prosecuting Interval are at a disadvantage without the victim's body.

Former Maricopa Superior Court judge and U.S. Attorney in Arizona, Mel McDonald, says convicting Interval in Mustafa's disappearance will be difficult but not impossible.

“If you've got bloodstains and DNA connected to her, it's pretty tough sometimes to argue that she wasn't an object of violence,” McDonald told Carissa Planalp in early June. “In virtually every murder case you'll have the medical examiner testify to cause of death. That’s going to be a conspicuous missing witness in the case.”

[READ MORE: Prosecutors face challenges in case of missing Christine Mustafa]

The SR-85 Landfill is a little less than an hour southwest of Phoenix via Interstate 10 and State Route 85, which connects I-10 with Interstate 8 to the south. The landfill is near the halfway point.


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  • Police: Landfill search for missing Phoenix woman starts MondayMore>>

  • Landfill search for body of missing Phoenix mom starts Monday

    Landfill search for body of missing Phoenix mom starts Monday

    The Phoenix Police Department says it’s ready to start searching a Buckeye landfill for the body of a woman who has been missing for months. Christine Mustafa disappeared on May 10. Her live-in boyfriend, Robert Interval Jr., has been arrested in her presumed death. Donna Rossi explains what this kind of search entails. Full story @ https://goo.gl/1frSbb. (Friday, Oct. 20, 2017)

    More >

    The Phoenix Police Department says it’s ready to start searching a Buckeye landfill for the body of a woman who has been missing for months. Christine Mustafa disappeared on May 10. Her live-in boyfriend, Robert Interval Jr., has been arrested in her presumed death. Donna Rossi explains what this kind of search entails. Full story @ https://goo.gl/1frSbb. (Friday, Oct. 20, 2017)

    More >