HUNLOCK TWP. — Jocelyn Thomas sat in the shade of an old tree Thursday waiting for the latest search to begin.
Her sister, Phylicia Thomas, has been missing since Feb. 11, 2004. Once again, private firms have been brought in to scour this rural corner of the county for her remains.
“It’s really kind of sad,” said Jocelyn, 33, as a team of cadaver search dogs from Stroudsburg-based Rescue International prepared to search the area along Golf Course Road and Timber Lane in Hunlock Township where Phylicia was last seen at a party in a trailer 14 years ago. Chief Bruce Barton of Rescue International said he and his team are volunteering their services in the hope of finding Phylicia and end the long ordeal for her family.
“This should be the cops’ job,” Jocelyn added.
Jocelyn, mother Pauline Bailey and close family friend Judy Lorah Fisher simply want to find Phylicia’s remains and lay her to rest. Thursday’s search gave them new hope that maybe their goal could finally be within reach.
Fisher said the dogs — Breeze, a 4-year-old female Golden Retriever, and Courageous, a 7-year-old Yellow Lab — did “hit” on a few spots on the site, indicating possible evidence of remains. One spot was at a tree near where a trailer once sat. The trailer was the scene of a party where Phylicia was last seen alive.
“The dogs stopped and tried to dig there,” Fisher said. “We’re very encouraged by today’s search.”
In fact, the animals had “hit after hit,” Fisher said, and Rescue International plans to return Saturday morning to excavate at the site.
Fisher contacted state police after the effort. She said they advised the group to proceed with excavations and notify troopers if they make any significant discoveries.
Times Leader calls to the state police barracks at Wyoming seeking comment on the status of the Phylicia Thomas investigation were not returned Thursday.
Phylicia, then 21, was reported missing by her mother on Feb. 13, 2004, when Bailey received a phone call from Phylicia’s place of employment indicating her paycheck was never picked up.
Family members believe Phylicia was killed while attending a party in a house trailer on a farm on Timber Lane on Feb. 11, 2004, and her body was then carried to a barn where it was kept. They believe her body was either buried in a vegetable garden on the farm or dumped in a pond, which discharges into Roaring Brook Creek.
It was along Roaring Brook Creek on April 2, 2010, when two boys found a human skull, identified by dental records as the skull as Jennifer Barziloski — a friend of Phylicia’s — who was 18 when she was reported missing in June 2001.
Bailey has previously said she believes her daughter was killed because she was asking questions about Barziloski’s disappearance.
Bailey said a lot of people have come forward to offer information about the events leading up to Phylicia’s disappearance, but she contends those people have told her they didn’t think police were interested in what they had to say.
“It’s been over 14 years,” Bailey said. “The people responsible should not be out there just running around free.”
Hit near trailer?
Early in Thursday’s search, the dogs got a “soft hit” on a pile of dirt and debris that was recently placed near where the trailer sat. Fisher said the pile was scraped from the area directly under where the trailer once stood.
Jocelyn and other volunteers used shovels and pitchforks to move some of the pile to allow for the dogs to get a better scent.
Last week, Jocelyn and Fisher and several others visited a wooded area behind the house once occupied by Steve Martin.
Martin, 32, was the target of state police investigators who searched his house and seized his all-terrain vehicle, according to previous Times Leader reports.
Martin took his own life while at the state prison at Camp Hill on Aug. 10, 2005, where he was serving a sentence for causing a fatal vehicle crash in Wilkes-Barre in December 2004.
One discovery was made during a visit to the area last Friday. A disintegrating shower curtain was found beneath a fallen tree, about 50 yards from a pond and about 30 yards off a trail.
Cadaver dogs did conduct a search of the Timber Lane farm in August 2016, making hits inside a barn and at the vegetable garden. But when police searched the farm with cadaver dogs in September 2016 and again last month, they did not hit on anything suspicious.
Phylicia would be 36 today. After all these years, her family is still waiting for answers and justice.
“We can’t give up,” Jocelyn said. “Nobody should just be thrown away like garbage.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.