An autopsy is under way in Florida that may determine whether a body found this weekend by a group of hunters is that of Cheryl Hodges Dunlap, a nurse who vanished earlier this month and was reported missing after she failed to arrive at church to teach her Sunday school class.
The Leon County Sheriff's Office received a call Saturday about the body of a white woman in the Apalachicola National Forest. The body appeared to have been there for some time. "How long, we're not sure," said Sgt. Rob Reisinger, a spokesman for the Leon County Sheriff's Office.
The autopsy could pinpoint the time and cause of the woman's death. Additional forensic work may be necessary -- including the use of DNA or dental records -- to determine whether it is Dunlap's body.
Dunlop, 46, hasn't been seen since Dec. 1. She was reported missing Sunday, Dec. 2, after she failed to show up to teach her Sunday school class.
This weekend's discovery triggered grim speculation that the two-week search for Dunlap, who's been married and has two grown children, had come to a tragic end. Reisinger warned, however, that the body may not be Dunlap's If it is Dunlap's, the determination could take several days to make.
"This is a horrible situation, whether it's Ms. Dunlap or some other poor, unfortunate person," Reisinger said.
Last Thursday, authorities in Leon County released two surveillance images of an unidentified man wanted for questioning in connection with Dunlap's disappearance.
The images show a tall, thin man "apparently wearing gloves, a hat and some sort of mask in an obvious attempt to hide his identity" as he draws money from an ATM machine.
Authorities said the man in the surveillance images used Cheryl Dunlap's ATM card in Leon County Dec. 2, 3 and 4 -- the first three days of her disappearance. Detectives staked out the ATM location for a week, but the suspect did not return to the bank.
Money was withdrawn, Reisinger said, suggesting that the person in the surveillance footage knew Dunlap's PIN number.
Detectives also received information about a vehicle of interest reportedly seen near Dunlap's abandoned car on the Crawfordville Highway in the evening of Dec. 1, the day she was last seen. That vehicle is described as a black, extended cab Dodge Ram pickup truck.
Dunlap's car was found two days after she disappeared. It had a flat tire and was parked on the shoulder of the highway. The vehicle was treated as a crime scene, but was "fruitless" in terms of providing authorities with clues in the case, Reisinger said.
"We have no subjects of interest right now that we can hang our hat on," said Reisinger.
Dunlap, who lives in Crawfordville, south of Tallahassee, had recently taken a nursing job at Florida State University's student health center.