LAKEWOOD RANCH — Investigators think they might have found the remains of Susan Fast.
It was a grisly scene, with divers from the Manatee County Sheriff's Office throughout the day Wednesday removing a woman's body parts from a storm drain and a retention pond behind a Publix grocery store.
But officials stopped short of saying that the search is over for the 60-year-old Fast, who was reported missing June 30.
"Detectives are checking dental records and working with the medical examiner's office to identify the remains. Based on GPS tracking information, there is reason to believe this could be the body of Susan Fast," Sheriff Brad Steube said in a news release late Wednesday afternoon.
Confirming the identity of the remains, which could include DNA testing, could take a week to 10 days.
Fast was reported missing from her Tara home June 30, and investigators have been searching areas indicated on the location-positioning device on her 2008 Lexus sport utility vehicle.
Steube said the GPS unit led detectives to the retention ponds behind the Publix off Town Center Parkway, along with several other locations.
The retention ponds were on the list of places sheriff's investigators were checking out.
"As the divers walked around the pond shortly after 8 a.m., they saw a partially submerged black garbage bag," Steube told a swarm of media personnel who descended on this usually bucolic neighborhood.
He said the bag contained body parts.
'We have an entire body'
The discovery startled employees at the nearby shopping center.
Standing behind the register at Coastal Liquors & Fine Wines, Sarah Scott's hands began to shake and her voice started to crack as she thought about the crime scene directly behind the store.
"I guess I was a little naive," Scott said, trying to smile as her face became flushed. "I saw the big van out back and thought they were having a blood drive. And then I found out that they were looking for a body."
After the initial discovery, divers began a methodical grid search of the 2-acre pond, plodding through the murky waters as they felt the bottom for more evidence.
Several deputies were dispatched to stand around the pond in the hot, midday sun, protecting the crime scene, which was taped off with yellow plastic ribbon.
Reporters, photographers and videographers from local print and television news outlets loitered around, waiting for any sign of a new discovery.
About 1:30 p.m. investigators discovered some items in a storm-water drain in the alley behind the Publix, about 30 feet from the pond.
A piece of heavy machinery arrived to remove the heavy concrete slab covering the drain, giving the investigators a clear view into the 6-foot-deep drainage box.
Two divers in wet suits, but without their air tanks, went into the drainage box, as about a dozen crime scene technicians and investigators gathered around, bending over to peer into the drain.
The divers were handed empty plastic bags. Moments later, the bags were hoisted back to the pavement, with something bulky inside. Shortly afterward, thick canvas straps were attached to the huge front-loader and a wooden pallet covered with a plastic sheet was hauled out of the drainage box.
"We have an entire body," Steube announced to the press corps.
Bruce Fast, Susan's husband, told investigators he had returned home from a trip to the Bahamas late June 29 and found his wife and her SUV missing.
There also was what appeared to be blood in the home in the 7500 block of Bird's Eye Terrace and several things out of place, including steak knives in the dishwasher and the kitchen throw rugs in the washing machine, according to the sheriff's office.
Fast called authorities to report Susan missing shortly after midnight June 30.
The Fasts were in the Bahamas together, but Susan Fast flew home earlier because the couple could not get on the same flight together.
The missing SUV was found abandoned around 3 p.m. June 30 in an east Bradenton neighborhood, with the license tag missing.
A witness in the neighborhood later identified Bruce Fast's son, Thomas, as the man who abandoned the SUV, according to authorities.
Thomas Fast, the 52-year-old stepson of Susan Fast, continues to be the lead suspect in her case.
He was arrested June 30 when he arrived in a taxi at a shopping center near the Tara home, where investigators were checking out Thomas Fast's 2006 white Chevrolet pickup left in the parking lot.
According to sheriff's office reports, he was barefoot and carrying two black duffel bags.
The witness in the neighborhood where Susan Fast's SUV was found reported seeing a man leave in a taxi carrying two black duffel bags.
When Thomas Fast told authorities he was carrying a .22-caliber handgun in his duffel, they arrested him on charges of carrying a concealed firearm. Handcuffs, a knife and zip ties were among the items found in his truck.
Thomas Fast remains in the Manatee County jail on bonds totaling $101,000, facing concealed weapons and auto theft charges related to the case.
Bruce Fast told investigators he suspects his son, who has a history of mental illness, had something to do with his wife's disappearance.
Thomas Fast, who has claimed that he has worked for the FBI and that the Russian mafia was involved in his stepmother's disappearance, invoked his right to remain silent after his first conversation with detectives.
The perimeter of the pond behind the Publix was walked earlier in the near monthlong investigation, but nothing was found.
Since then, there have been several heavy downpours, possibly flushing evidence out of the storm drain.
The local Lexus dealership provided sheriff's investigators with the downloaded data needed to pinpoint where Susan Fast's SUV had been driven the night she disappeared.
The data indicated the vehicle was in the southern Lorraine Road area, as well as the northern end of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge during the early morning hours of June 30.
Along with the body parts found in the drainage box, investigators found a fitted sheet, towels and another large piece of textile material.
Also located in the pond earlier in the day were two alligators that were removed by trappers. The animals were to be euthanized and dissected to determine if their stomachs contained any evidence, but their fate was uncertain as all the body parts were recovered.
Wednesday's find followed a massive search by 250 community volunteers of an open area at the southern end of Lorraine Road in Sarasota County.
Several items were found and were being processed as evidence, Steube said.
Steube also spoke with Bruce Fast on Wednesday morning, notifying him of the developments. The sheriff asked the media to "respect his privacy."
A sheriff's office victim advocate and family and friends were at the Fasts' Tara Preserve home Wednesday afternoon, but none chose to speak to the media.
Back at the shopping center, Bobby Dean, owner of Lemon Tree Salon and Spa, said one of his employees lives on the same street as Fast.
"She remembers seeing her out on the sidewalk in the neighborhood," Dean said. "It is just so sad."
The entire staff was in shock after learning of the discovery.
"I saw a police car drive up this morning, but I had no idea what was going on," Dean said. "I was floored to hear from my first client that they were looking for body parts out there. I couldn't believe something like that could be happening so close to this area."
Stylist Quinn Austin said the crime scene reminds her of the murder that happened in Panther Ridge a few years back. In 1999, 35-year-old Sherry Brannon and her two young daughters, Shelby and Cassidy Brannon, were found stabbed to death in their Panther Ridge home.
"I still don't like driving through that area," Austin said. "It was heartbreaking and I feel the same way about this." View more photos.
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