A chance encounter with a stray puppy is turning out to be the key to solving cold cases, including that of missing Idaho toddler, DeOrr Kunz Jr.
Seven years ago, Chance the lab mix caught the eye of a woman in a high kill animal shelter and couldn’t bear to see him put down, so she took him and called experienced K9 handler Tracy “Trace” Sargent.
"A friend of mine actually rescued him. She wasn't really familiar with working dogs, but she called me up and she said, ‘you know Tracy this dog just looks different and acts different. Could you come and take a look at him?’ At the time, I had two dogs already and wasn't looking for a third one, but I was just going to try to help find the right home for this puppy,” explained Trace.
Trace Sargent is a law enforcement officer and K9 search and rescue specialist based in Georgia with more than 25 years of experience. Trace and her dogs have worked on cases across the world ranging from high profile disappearances such as Natalie Holloway and missing toddler Caylee Anthony, to natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina. But before she became a renowned K9 handler, she was simply looking for a new adventure.
“I wanted to get a dog, specifically a puppy, and do something special and unique with it. As faith would have, I read an article in Reader's Digest about a woman who had a German Shepard that found a missing child, and that really planted the seed in this incredible journey that I've been on for over 20 years," Trace confesses.
From her very first meeting with Chance, Trace knew he was a special dog.
“I did a few little tests with him. Spent a little bit of time with him. And I thought, he definitely needs a job to do. So the idea was I was going to bring him here and train him up, then actually place him with someone else. Well, after spending a couple of days with him, I was like no, he's not going anywhere. He's going to stay here."
Chance specializes in human remains detection. He is trained to a full spectrum of human remains ranging from bone fragments to a full body and everything in between. Chance’s job is to alert Trace when he has picked up on a scent of human remains. From there, the humans take over to try to figure out why the dog alerted at a particular location.
In 2016, Trace and Chance were asked by private investigators to help in the disappearance of two-year-old DeOrr Kunz Jr. Their search began in Idaho Falls and continued all along the path to Timber Creek Campsite where DeOrr was last seen. At the campsite, Chance picked up a scent.
"Chance did alert to an area right there within the campsite, so we checked. We took him out of it, the investigators stepped in. We dug that area up to see if there was any physical, tangible evidence that we could touch and feel and see. We didn't find any physical evidence, but what he is telling us, he indicated to us that there is human remain scent here."
The key, Trace reveals, is trying to figure out if the scent Chance hits on is related to the case or not. While they didn’t find any evidence that tied directly to the DeOrr Kunz case, Trace says she wasn’t able to fully rule it out either.
"I trust these dogs. Their nose is a lot better than me trying to think it through and using my mind to try and figure it out. It really is a team work effort. He doesn't do it by himself and I don't do it by myself. We really work together as a team."
More than two years later, the case of DeOrr Kunz still remains a mystery. Watch our exclusive six-part investigation of the case “Little Man Lost” here.
This series was produced by Atticus Investigates: Jeremy Campbell, Matt Livingston, Erin Gutierrez, Lauren Rudeseal and Blis Savidge.
If you have tips or theories about baby DeOrr, email Atticus@11alive.com.