Authorities now believe the body of a Hartville woman murdered by her husband is buried deep within a Kentucky landfill.

Philip Snider, 73, pleaded guilty last week in Stark County Common Pleas Court to aggravated murder and other charges for the death of his wife of 53 years, Roberta.

Judge Frank Forchione sentenced Snider to a prison term of 20 years before he’s eligible for parole.

About 6 a.m. Tuesday, Hartville Police Chief Larry Dordea picked up Snider at the Stark County Jail and drove him in an unmarked cruiser on a planned trip to the Tennessee River, where the defendant claimed he placed his wife’s body earlier this year.

Dordea was accompanied by Hartville Sgt. Rob Wittensoldner, who worked closely on the investigation. Snider was shackled and wore a red jail jumpsuit marked "ESCAPE RISK."

Along the drive, following persistent questions from the chief, Snider changed his story, saying he put the body in a dumpster near a bar in Bullitt County, Kentucky, Dordea said Thursday. From there, it’s believed it was picked up with trash and hauled to the Pearl Hollow Landfill in Hardin County in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.

Based on Snider’s body language, behavior, the detailed description of the dumpster location and previous police work, Dordea said he believed the defendant was telling the truth. The chief, however, said he had good reason to be skeptical as Snider’s story has changed multiple times.

"I’ve been one of his greatest skeptics since the beginning and I’m a believer now," Dordea said, referring to where the body was taken.

The landfill

Due to the passage of several months, the size of the landfill, a search for the body would require a lot of time, money and resources, Dordea said. Located about an hour south of Louisville, Kentucky, the landfill is affiliated with Santek Waste Services.

Louisville police referred Dordea to the Bullitt County Sheriff’s Office for assistance in locating the dumpster near Exit 105 off Interstate 65, about 30 minutes from the landfill, Dordea said. "My mindset is we are looking for a needle in a haystack ... and I wanted to get the local professionals involved," he said.

Landfill management estimated it would cost $70,000 to $100,000 and take at least three weeks to excavate for human remains, Dordea said. He said the landfill operator indicated it doesn’t have the time or resources for such an undertaking and that a third-party contractor would be required, the chief said.

The remains could be 20 to 25 feet beneath the surface, Dordea said.

"And (the landfill manager) said the likelihood of finding human remains that have been in there nine months through the climate changes and underneath the massive weight, not just of the rubbish and trash, but the heavy machinery (used) to compact (the landfill) continually, would be next to impossible," Dordea said.

The chief said he and the Stark County Prosecutor’s Office have been unable to find available funding for such an endeavor.

River search was planned

After his wife had been reported missing on Jan. 9, Snider originally told police that his spouse had fallen ill on a trip to Graceland and died of natural causes in the parking lot of a Memphis hotel. He claimed paramedics hauled away her corpse in an ambulance, but he couldn’t identify the vehicle or jurisdiction.

Although video surveillance, witness statements and blood evidence built a case for Stark County prosecutors, it was the Hartville Police Department’s use of an undercover officer that sealed the investigation and culminated in Snider’s guilty pleas last week.

Snider told the undercover officer that he struck his wife twice in the forehead with a two-pound stake hammer. He said he tied a plastic grocery bag over Roberta Snider’s head and rolled her onto a plastic tarp before loading the body into his truck, according to an audio recording of the April 20 meetup at a fast-food restaurant.

Dordea said the Benton County Sheriff’s Office in Tennessee had resources waiting to search the Tennessee River in the area where Snider claimed to have disposed of the body, including personnel, boats and dredging equipment. Dordea said he also had a court order from Forchione regarding the cooperation of other detention facilities and jails in housing Snider during the trip.

"My intention was to stop at every place that ... we had tracked during the investigation," Dordea said.

But they didn’t make it farther than Sparta, Kentucky, where Snider had stayed at a hotel in January after killing his wife.

‘Something spiritual’

Before leaving the landfill Wednesday, Dordea said a prayer.

"My colleagues and I all agreed that we felt something something spiritual," he said. "We really felt like she was here."

"We’re not a bunch of thin-skinned people who are easily persuaded by things but we all felt something special," Dordea added. "We found what we were looking for but it was unattainable."

Dordea said he’s talked with members of Roberta Snider’s family about the development.

"This isn’t the solution that they were seeking but it’s one they can accept," the chief said. "They know we’ve really pushed our resources to the limit to help them and they’re unbelievably grateful for the work we’ve done.

"Sometimes a case can be closed and sometimes it can be exceptionally closed and think I would put it in that category — exceptionally closed — because I don’t know what else we could do."