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Field Museum scientists search for Baby Kate

Katherine Phillips has been missing for more than two years Field Museum botanists are joining investigation. Provided photo

Katherine Phillips has been missing for more than two years, and Field Museum botanists are joining the investigation. Provided photo

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Updated: July 30, 2013 7:59AM

Sneed exclusive

A sole search . . .

This evidence wasn’t planted.

It was already there; a mixture of mosses scraped from the sole of a murder suspect’s shoe.

It’s a whodunit that has the prestigious Field Museum involved in a whole new caper: solving the case of a missing child using their highly skilled botanists as forensic detectives.

“Be careful where you tread,” said Matt von Konrat, one of four Field botanists who will use their unique skills this weekend in a massive search in Ludington, Mich., for the grave of a four-month-old child gone missing two years ago Saturday.

It is the unique combination of plant material found on the sole of the shoe of the baby’s father, who has been convicted of her kidnapping, “which could help us narrow down the potential sites of her grave,” said von Konrat. “That’s the purpose of our work.”

The baby, Katherine Phillips, was last seen wearing a one-piece white outfit with black polka dots, pink flowers and pink straps. The child was driven away in a 1998 Oldsmobile with her father on June 19, 2011.

It was the last time “Baby Kate” was seen alive.

Although Phillips is in prison for kidnapping his tiny daughter, police are treating Baby Kate’s disappearance as a homicide — and are treating him as the murder suspect.

“It’s highly unusual for our scientists to assist in a homicide investigation. We hope the expertise of our botanists can help bring closure to Baby Kate’s family,” said Nancy O’Shea, public relations director at the Field Museum.

“The plants are like fingerprints, and we are trying to find just where those found on the shoe might all be found in one place,” said a source.

The Field Museum botanists specialize in the most crucial part of the plant evidence — moss extracted from the bottom of Phillips’ shoe after his arrest.

The search team, comprised of approximately 80 people with botanical expertise, will walk grids in rural areas in Mason County, Mich., Friday and Saturday. “Botanists will come from all over, Chicago’s Field Museum as well as the university of Michigan,” said Mason County Police Chief Deputy Bob Brown.

The mother of Baby Kate, Ariel Courtland, testified during Phillips’ trial the last time she saw her baby was in the back of his car. He is now serving a 10-to-15-year prison sentence on kidnapping charges.

“We’ve conducted foot searches for evidence and this is another foot search for evidence necessary in the homicide investigation,” Ludington Police Chief Mark Barnett told the local press.

Two years is too long for any mother to be without her child. Maybe this time.

The Bolt man . . .

Stanley Cup bodyguard Mike Bolt, who finally made it into town Tuesday to protect the legendary 121-year-old punchbowl, tells Sneed he was wowed by the players’ enthusiasm filling up the bowl with champagne at the American Junkie eatery Tuesday night, but was upset about the excited fan whose agita caused him to get hit by a car outside the bar.

I spy . . .

Blackhawk Bryan Bickell celebrated the Stanley Cup win at Chicago Cut Steakhouse Tuesday night with his wife and family . . . and Hawk Patrick Sharp and the Cup were at Prosecco with a friendly crowd of fans . . . Actress Michelle Pfeiffer and her husband David Kelley stopped by Gibson’s on Saturday for dinner . . . and Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville dined at Gibson’s Oakbrook on Tuesday night, where the dining room gave him a standing ovation . . . Gov. Pat Quinn stopped by Luxbar for dinner Monday . . . and Hawk Corey Crawford stopped by Carmine’s on Wednesday.

Sneedlings . . .

Congratulations to grand jury supervisor Jim Tansey, who will be retiring Friday after 35 years at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse . . . Thursday’s birthdays: Khloe Kardashian, 29; Tobey Maguire, 38, and Ross Perot, 83.

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