Todd Ruger

Opportunistic Davenport detectives shoveled thick Mississippi River mud into a sifter Thursday afternoon, hoping to shake out clues to the unsolved murder of a Rock Island woman from a crime scene usually covered in water.

They marked out a 20-foot-by-15-foot area and began to dig around where detectives found the body of Yvonne "Bonnie" Nicholson, 32, partially submerged in Mississippi backwater near Credit Island in November 2001.

The late-summer drought has drained the water away from the tree-lined shore along South Concord Street in Davenport, leaving the crime scene dry for the first time since two men spotted her body.

Investigators are taking the opportunity to look for clues — metal, clothes, personal effects or anything — that may take them one step closer to who strangled Nicholson, police said.

"It has been two years, but nonetheless it's worth a try," Lt. Dennis Kern, deputy commander of the criminal investigation division, said as a detective ran a metal detector over the marked area. "If we don't do it, we know we won't find anything."

If rain in the Mississippi's basin raises the river level only a few inches, the scene would again be unreachable, Kern said.

For now, vegetation has sprouted on the exposed river bottom. Someone's all-terrain vehicle earlier in the week gouged out deep tire tracks across the marked-out grid, which resembles an archeological dig.

The borrowed, city-owned metal detector beeped only a few times, and detectives pulled out an aluminum can.

Then the real work began: shoveling away the layers of sediment, carrying it to a large sifter and shaking out the dark mud, pebbles and rocks. The mud, thick and dark, gums up the wire sifter.

The detectives won't give up on the dig until the entire grid has been sifted, Kern said. It might take them two days, he said.

Nicholson was wearing a sweatshirt, shorts and socks when she was found about 75 feet from the road.

At the time, officials created a plywood walkway through the mud and shallow water to help them remove her from the river. A Davenport Fire Department ladder truck provided investigators with an overhead look at the scene, and they took pictures from the "bucket" on the end of the ladder.

She had been released from prison 10 days before her body was found, Illinois Department of Corrections records showed.

Todd Ruger can be contacted at (563) 383-2493 or truger@qctimes.com.

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