Payson detectives Monday were just unwrapping the protective plastic wrap off a charred vehicle found with a body inside Thursday in a remote canyon, hoping to unravel the mystery of who the person is and how they got there.
Gila County Sheriff Detectives George Ratliff and Jamie Garrett traveled to a forensic lab in Tucson at 4 a.m. Monday to begin processing of the burned SUV.
Firefighters found the truck covered in flames at 9:30 p.m. Thursday down a remote dirt road, 17 miles south of Payson on Highway 87.
When authorities initially spotted the blaze from the highway, at milepost 233 they thought the forest was on fire. As they traveled closer, they realized a truck was beneath the flames and as they extinguished the remaining embers, discovered a body lying in the back seat of what appears to be an older model two-door Chevy or Ford Bronco SUV.
Authorities won’t say if the body is that of a man or a woman or an adult, but judging by photographs taken on scene, there is little left of the vehicle or the body.
Little more is known about the suspicious fire because shortly after the flames were extinguished, authorities wrapped the SUV, loaded it onto a truck and shipped it to Tucson.
“The entire vehicle was wrapped up because we are trying to keep it pristine so they can go through it piece by piece,” said Gila County Sheriff Lt. Tim Scott.
Ratliff said he did not know how long it would take to sort through the ashes of the vehicle and have an autopsy performed.
In the meantime, officers have searched the canyon in and around where the SUV was found. K-9s were brought in Friday and searched around the area, finding no new clues, Scott said.
Tracks were found near the SUV and officers followed them up a creek bed, however, “we don’t know if they relate to anything right now,” Scott said.
“Right now we have a body with an unknown cause of death found in a burned up car,” he said.