Skeletal remains found by a hiker in western Colorado belong to Paige Birgfeld, a mother of three who was working as an escort when she went missing nearly five years ago, authorities said Thursday.
"We are confident that we have identified the remains as belonging to Paige Birgfeld," Sgt. Matt Lewis of the Mesa County Sheriff's Office told The Huffington Post.
According to Lewis, the county medical examiner made the identification using dental records. Authorities are still awaiting the results of DNA tests being conducted by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, but said they do not expect those results to change their findings.
"We are going to show due diligence and follow [the dental identification] with DNA identification, but we are very confident in [the current] identification," Lewis said.
Birgfeld, then 34 and a Grand Junction resident, was last seen alive on June 30, 2007. The following day, her 2005 Ford Focus was found ablaze in the parking lot of an area business. The burned-out vehicle revealed few clues, and police were unable to locate any sign of Birgfeld.
"Nothing during the course of our investigation has led us to believe that Paige walked away from her family or that she left of her own free will," Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey told reporters in July 2007. "Unfortunately, we do suspect foul play in her disappearance and the subsequent arson of her vehicle."
Birgfeld's remains were discovered Tuesday by a hiker in Delta County, near the Mesa County line.
"They were found in Wells Gulch," Lewis said. "Right now it's a dry creek bed, [but] at various times of the year some water does flow through there."
While police have said the case is being investigated as a homicide, they are waiting for the coroner to determine a cause of death. When that will happen is not yet known.
"[We have] no idea at this point," Lewis said. "That will absolutely depend on the tests [they have to perform]. We may even employ the services of a forensic pathologist in assisting with that. It could take weeks [or] months. We don't have an estimate at this time."
In addition to Birgfeld's remains, authorities said they found articles of her clothing and other items of possible evidentiary value. Lewis declined to elaborate further.
It was during the initial search for Birgfeld in 2007 that investigators discovered the mother of three had been living a secret life -- a life that may have played a role in her death.
Prior to her disappearance, Birgfeld owned an acupuncture business and worked part-time as a sales consultant for the Pampered Chef. To outward appearances, those jobs paid for her million-dollar home and luxurious lifestyle. However, unbeknown to family and friends, Birgfeld was earning the bulk of her income working as an online escort, police said.
In a now-defunct profile at NaughtyNightlife.com, Birgfeld allegedly went by the alias "Carrie" and offered in-call and out-call services.
"Beautiful body and face, nice hair and teeth," the profile read. "Sensual mannerisms with a fun attitude. Tired of chopped meat showing up when you ordered Filet Mignon? Affluent clients are lavishing in delightful sessions."
Once Birgfeld's secret was exposed, investigators focused their efforts on Lester Ralph Jones. The 56-year-old man had allegedly been a client of Birgfeld's. According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Jones also has a previous criminal record, including a five-year prison sentence for first-degree assault and second-degree attempted kidnapping.
Mesa County Sheriff's Office investigators conducted two searches of Jones' home, but the warrants remain sealed and charges were never filed against him.
"[Jones] is not any more suspect or any less suspect at this point," Lewis said. "We need to go through all the evidence we have collected, and that may change that or it may not. At this point, we are working toward the goal of a prosecution."
In an interview with the Grand Junction Sentinel this week, Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said it was too soon to speculate about bringing a prosecution. The discovery of Birgfeld's body is "certainly a significant development, but there's still work to be done," Hautzinger said.
While the state's next move remains up in the air, Lewis said the sheriff's department is hopeful the discovery of Birgfeld's remains will help ease some minds.
"Everything has changed in the last 24 to 48 hours," Lewis said. "We have new directions to take, [and] we hope this discovery will bring some closure to the family and the community that has been so involved in the search for her over the years."
Her father, Frank Birgfeld, indicated to Fox News on Thursday that closure has been all too elusive.
"I'm lower than a snake. I keep hearing people tell me there's going to be this great moment of closure. ... The party hasn't begun. I'm crushed, I'm crushed," he said.
"I don't cry much, but I cried today," the distraught father added.
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