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State police begin dig for elderly couple, unearth box in Stockholm

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POTSDAM — Following leads into the possible burial of an elderly couple on May Road in the town of Stockholm, state police have uncovered what they say appears to be a box in the ground.

State police began digging at 733 May Road this morning after thawing a 3-by-5-foot space next to a trailer on the property. They are looking for the bodies of Betty and Alvin Babcock, a couple in their 80s whose relatives lost contact with them two years ago.

State Police Lt. John R. Coryea said it took eight hours to thaw one area of the property. He said digging is an arduous task, and they so far have been able to dig down only about three feet.

“They are going to proceed slowly,” Lt. Coryea said. “The ground and all the frost on top of it is really the limiting factor at this point.”

During the dig with a backhoe, police discovered something that resembled a box, said Trooper Jennifer V. Fleishman, state police Troop B spokeswoman. A second area next to the dig site also is being thawed for what she confirmed was the possible location of a second box.

The search for the Babcocks is a result of what started out as a welfare fraud case, according to St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary E. Rain. The investigation led authorities to the May Road trailer occupied by Robert Bartlett, who, according to relatives of Mrs. Babcock, used to drive the couple to doctor appointments.

State police Violent Crime Investigation Team senior investigator John H. Donohue said that while the probe has led state police to the box in the ground, they still are not sure what they are dealing with.

“Anytime you dig in a large area such as this, you never know what you are going to find,” he said.

Ms. Rain also was on the scene this morning and said that while the 2-foot-deep frost line has been a problem for the search, state police have been methodical in their investigation.

“They are not going to hit where they think the evidence might be because there will be hand digging and sifting and things like that,” Ms. Rain said. “They are going around the area where they think the evidence might be. We don’t know what the evidence is until we find it.”

Ms. Rain said that based on the leads state police have received, investigators are targeting specific areas and may target others later.

“But, again, the frost is about two feet thick, so they want to be as specific as they can, and they are making progress,” Ms. Rain said.

Mr. Bartlett is undergoing a mental health evaluation. Ms. Rain said if the bodies are found, it could determine how the case could be prosecuted.

“Generally speaking, defendants who have mental health issues or histories, their defense attorneys can request an evaluation for whether they are competent to go forward with the charges or stand trial,” Ms. Rain said. “We are not there yet on this because we haven’t lodged any charges.”

State police wrapped up the dig at about 5:30 p.m. Thursday and will resume the operation at 8 a.m. today.

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