[EXCLUSIVE] Elizabeth Salgado’s remains found after 3-year search; Sgt. says she was killed

Who killed the beautiful woman who came from Mexico to study English in Utah?

In a tragic ending to an over three-year-long search, the remains of a beautiful Mexican woman who disappeared in Utah were discovered May 18 in a mountainous region of the state, and authorities are treating the case as a homicide.

26-year-old Elizabeth Elena Salgado was last seen the afternoon of April 16th, 2015, as she left Nomen Global School in Provo, where she was studying English, according to police.

CrimeOnline spoke with Sgt. Spencer Cannon of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, who said a man found the young woman’s remains as he stopped for a bathroom break while looking for a spot to camp about 15 miles from where Salgado was last seen. While the police sergeant said the exact location of where Salgado’s body was found isn’t being revealed at this time, citing the ongoing investigation, he did say the department was very lucky for the man who happened to be in the area, or the case could have remained cold for many years to come.  

“It was as the man was going up to find a camping spot, he stopped to take a bathroom break, which is when he came upon her remains,” Cannon stated.” It’s not very often that we get a major piece of evidence in a death investigation because somebody had to use the bathroom. And in this particular spot where she was found, we may have gone another 20 years and never found her.

“The likelihood of somebody walking close enough to the area where she was found is pretty slim, to put it mildly. And while we’ve finished up with what we’re doing there, we recognize that it’s entirely possible that something may come up in the investigation that may make us want to take another look at it. Though we can’t hold the location closed forever, we didn’t want to publicize it just in case something comes up later that makes us want to go back and take another look.”  

Elizabeth Salgado [Handout]
Cannon also said detectives had not looked in the area where the remains were found because the area is a remote U.S. Forest service area that “typically has its gates closed” during the time of year when Salgado disappeared.

“It’s hard to characterize it as a highly-trafficked area, an area that a lot of people go to because it’s rather remote, but it is a popular area,” Cannon told CrimeOnline. “The road going by it gets a lot of traffic given the type of area that it is. It’s the kind of area where you can drive a car to, yet the volume of traffic isn’t going to be like a freeway at rush hour; it’s going to be like a remote canyon area on a holiday weekend.”

Though a suspect has not been named at this time, the sergeant did say they are talking to “persons of interest,” and stressed that the Provo Police Department must look at “absolutely every angle possible” during the course of the investigation.

“In a case like this, anybody who has had interactions with Elizabeth Salgado, anyone who has had any interaction with her whatsoever in the hours or days before she was last seen, could be described as a person of interest. Maybe she said something to somebody, maybe they saw something that seemed unusual…but anyone who had any close contact with her or was supposed to have had any close contact with her would certainly be a person of interest until we develop enough evidence to change any given person’s status to suspect.”

The Utah Sheriff’s Office will be working closely with the Provo Police Department, and though they have taken over because of where Salgado’s remains were found, Cannon emphasized that they will still be working very closely with the department, and stressed that they will continue to be an important part of the investigation.

“The Provo Police Department has put in a lot of work and we need to rely on what they already know so that we don’t have to cover the same ground again. That said, we’ll be looking at old evidence, old interviews, other people that they’ve already spoken to…and many of those will be spoken to again in light of what has been found now.

“Probably one of the biggest hopes now is that we can give Elizabeth a chance to talk to us, and help us in the investigation because of where her remains were found and the evidence that might be there. She obviously isn’t here to stand up and tell us exactly what happened, but our hope now is that by using the evidence collected at the scene where her remains were found…we’ll be able to make progress on finding out who is responsible for what happened.”

Regarding the case being treated as a homicide, though the autopsy didn’t uncover anything at this time that made officials “clearly think this was a murder,” Cannon said the circumstances involved have led them to believe that to be the case. He added that with the remains having been exposed to the elements for so long, it makes the case that much more difficult to decipher an exact cause of death.

“Because of the circumstances in which the remains were found, the only clear manner of death could be homicide,” Cannon told CrimeOnline. “While the medical examiner has not made that call yet, it would not surprise me if that’s what they determine to be the manner of death…whether or not they’ll be able to determine the exact cause of death though is still yet to be seen…it’s hard when the remains are that old.”

While Salgado, who before going to Utah earned a college degree in her native Mexico, was described by police as someone who “was somewhat reserved in face to face situations,” she was very active on social media, and devoted to the Mormon church, whom she at one point went on a mission for.

Police do not believe the woman had a significant other, though Cannon said he believed she “dreamed of marrying someone in the Mormon church,” and had made great strides to make a fulfilling, successful life for herself.

Police also previously reported that Salgado “was somewhat reserved and regularly refused rides from people she knew, so it was unlikely she accepted a ride from a stranger.” In addition, a police report said “her regular walking route was along a road that was very high pedestrian and vehicular traffic in the middle of the day. The fact that we didn’t receive any calls about a suspicious incident at the time she disappeared is baffling.”

While the discovery was tragically not the ending anyone had hoped for, Cannon is hopeful that this is just the beginning of what may bring Salgado’s loved ones the closure they’ve so desperately waited for during the last excruciatingly painful three years.

“It will bring some element of closure, but at the same time it’s not going to be complete until we get a resolution and find out who is responsible,” Cannon said.

In addition, the sergeant said the Provo Police Department has spent “literally thousands of hours of effort into finding her and what happened to her,” and were hopeful that the outcome would’ve been different, as was the case of activist Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped from her Utah bedroom in 2002 by Brian David Mitchell. Smart, who was held captive for nine months before being found, was personally touched by Salgado’s story, and publicly pleaded for information into her disappearance.

“During their investigation into Elizabeth Selgado for the past three years, as a missing person’s case, the Provo Police Department worked with Ed Smart, Elizabeth’s Smart’s father, and Elizabeth Smart herself. One of the roles they played was in trying to help people remain optimistic and hopeful. While the likelihood of positive outcomes is not very good in cases like this, Elizabeth Smart’s story is a good example of why we need to keep working, keep looking, and continue to have hope because sometimes they do turn out well…as we’re so grateful that her case did.”

Anyone who has information related to the case is asked to call the Investigation Division of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office at 801-851-4010. For questions, contact Sergeant Spencer Cannon, Public Information Officer, Utah County Sheriff’s Office (801) 404-1912. Twitter: SGTCannonPIO

[Feature photo: Provo Police Department]