By TARA SCHMELZ
NEW ALBANY — Police have identified human remains found in the backyard of a New Albany home on Friday as those of 35-year-old Stephanie Marie Kirk, a Charlestown woman who has been missing since March.
The owner of the home where the remains were found, 54-year-old William Clyde Gibson, has not been charged in connection with the discovery. But he is currently being held in the Floyd County Jail without bond after being charged with double murder on Tuesday in the week-old death of 75-year-old family friend Christine Whitis and the 2002 death of Karen Hodella, 45, of Jeffersonville.
Detectives began searching Gibson’s backyard along Woodbourne Avenue, near University Woods apartments, around 2 p.m. Friday. Shortly before 10:30 p.m., Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson confirmed officials had found human remains buried there.
The exact cause of Kirk’s death is still being determined by medical examiners, according to a press release from the New Albany Police Department.
On Friday, Henderson said people should be careful before labeling Gibson a serial killer.
“The fact is it is a serious matter. We do have three individuals at this point,” Henderson said.
Kirk’s family reported her missing in March. According to Clark County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Rachael Lee, who investigated Kirk’s disappearance at the time, the woman was last seen leaving a friend’s home along the 1300 block of Spring Street in New Albany on March 25 to meet an unidentified man at the Uptown Bar on Vincennes Street.
Lee said Kirk had apparently met the man the night before and had agreed to go with him the following day to pick up a motorcycle in Shelbyville. Lee was unsure if they were supposedly going to Shelbyville, Ky., or Shelbyville, Ind., and neither Kirk’s cell phone nor credit cards showed any activity since the day she left her friend’s home to meet the man. Though Kirk lived with her daughter and other family members between Charlestown and New Washington, she often spent the weekends in New Albany with friends, Lee said.
Whitis was found strangled in Gibson’s garage on April 19, according to Henderson. Hodella was reported missing in October 2002 and was found dead in a wooded area along the Ohio River in January 2003. Due to the condition of her body when it was found Henderson said the cause of her death is still unknown.
He said statements made by Gibson implicated himself in Whitis’ and Hodella’s murders but he has not said if Gibson made similar statements about Kirk.
The discovery of Kirk’s remains on Friday came just hours after officials called off a more than two-day search of the Ohio River due to deteriorating water conditions.
While law enforcement would not discuss specifics of the river search this week, one official at the site Wednesday confirmed that Gibson had made statements to police about the possibility more victims than Whitis and Hodella. According to Louisville Metro Police Department Sgt. John Payne, nothing significant had been located during the search by the time it was called off around 1:30 p.m. Friday.