Searches hope to trace Phillips’ steps the day Baby Kate disappeared

April 3, 2013

Chief Barnett, Dr. Telewski, Sheriff Kim Cole, MSP Lt. Kevin Leavitt.

By Rob Alway

LUDINGTON — Law Enforcement officials are asking for qualified volunteers to help narrow the search to tracing Sean Phillips’ steps from the end of June 2011. Through botanical research, they have narrowed down about 10 elements that may be unique to specific areas around Mason County and possibly other areas.

Phillips was convicted last year of the unlawful imprisonment of his then 4-month-old daughter Katherine “Baby Kate” Phillips. Since that time Ludington Police Department has opened a murder investigation into the Baby Kate case.

Chief Mark Barnett announced this morning that Dr. Frank Telewski and Peter Carrington of Michigan State University found a seed of sedge identified as Carex Atlantica. The material was identified by Dr. Tony Reznicek, a global expert in Carex and a professor at University of Michigan.

“The sedge is extremely rare and is only found in a few locations in the surrounding area.”

“In addition to this, another seed was identified as Carex Interior. While Carex Interior is more common in the surrounding area, it is extremely rare to be found in the same area as Carex Atlantica due to the difference in soil type. Carex Atlantica grows in an acidic soil and Carex Interior grows in an alkaline soil.”

Barnett said a large group of Diatoms were also found. These specific Diatoms are algae that live on the surface of organic sediments in a range of circumneutral to acidic waters located in wetlands. Another species of plant material was identified as Sphagnum Affine.”

Dr. Telewski said up to 10 different elements were found on evidence retrieved from Phillips related to the day of Kate’s disappearance.

Local law enforcement, which includes the Mason County Sheriff’s Department, Ludington Police Department and Michigan State Police, are organizing searches to take place on June 28 and 29. Though those dates coincide with the date that Kate disappeared two years ago, the reason for those particular dates have more to do with the time of year that the Carex flowers blossom, Dr. Telewski said.

“We are requesting volunteers who have experience and credentials in plant identification,” Barnett said. These people do not necessarily have to be experts but people with knowledge.

Those interested in participating in the search can fill out an application located on, click on news.

The possibility of soil being used as evidence was first introduced during Phillips’ trial last April. Dr. Telewski was among the experts who testified about soil material found on Phillips’ shoes.

Barnett would not specify exactly where the searches will take place. In 2011, crews searched the swampy areas west of the Phillips household in Victory Township. The area is located near the marshes of the Lincoln River. They also searched the Ludington School Forest and Suttons Landing in Pere Marquette Township. Testimony during the trial indicated an extended gap where Phillips’ whereabouts were not known. Witnesses did see him west of his parents’ house and also north of the house along U.S. 31.

Barnett would not comment on any other progress of the case, but did make reference to a letter supposedly written by Phillips from prison where Phillips states he put Baby Kate in a “peaceful place.”

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