Las Vegas police have been looking for Billie Jean James since she went missing in April.
Volunteers scoured the surrounding desert around her home near the M Resort on the southern edge of the valley.
Police used helicopters with infrared technology to search from above.
And highly trained search dogs sniffed through the 67-year-old's two cluttered homes, which family friends previously characterized as residences of a compulsive hoarder.
Bill James, her husband of 40 years, said he found her body Wednesday afternoon in a back room inside one of the homes and called police.
She was underneath the clutter.
He recognized her shoes.
"She's been in the house this whole time," a shaken James said. "I didn't see a lot, but I recognized her shoes. I saw her feet first."
An official identification will come from the Clark County coroner's office, but James said he's "sure it's her."
"Dogs went through the house, I went through the house, the police went through the house. I was going through it daily for weeks," he said. "I thought I had looked in every place a person could fit, and I didn't see her."
Despite the discovery of the body, Lt. Rob Lundquist, of the missing persons unit, said the investigation is ongoing.
"We haven't confirmed the identity of the remains, but the body was found in the house," Lundquist said. "Let me make it crystal clear, just because we have investigators out there does not necessarily mean it's a criminal investigation or that a crime has been committed."
Friends described Billie Jean, who was last seen April 22, as a colorful woman who loved everything about nature. She had traveled around the world to hike, help endangered animals and clean up national parks. In fact, the couple was scheduled to travel the day after Billie Jean vanished to Molokai, Hawaii, on a volunteer service trip to monitor endangered monk seals.
A political activist, Billie Jean, clad in a red-and-white striped dress with a blue starred vest, marched in antiwar rallies to bring home the troops.
A humanitarian, she traveled to New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and volunteered in New Orleans with the American Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina.
She also loved art and music, playing the guitar.
She was an avid gardener, and her front yard full of native plants is culmination of 40 years' worth of work.
Billie Jean's friends and family expressed shock and grief in the Facebook group Friends of Bill and Billie Jean James.
"Bill found Billie Jean. It is so sad. I feel so stupid about not following my instincts but other people in charge treated it like a joke, so I did not go into her back room that I called a rabbit hole," one group member wrote.
The Jameses built a second home on their property to hold all the items that Billie Jean hoarded.
Dawn Reitz, the state's only certified professional organizer, said she frequently deals with hoarders.
"Most are people who have had a tragic experience they can't bounce back from," Reitz said. "They need to hold onto things because they replace the connection with people. They're memories."
Some are compulsive shoppers. Some cannot deal with life changes such as moving for a job. Others are giving up on life. It is possible for a hoarder to die trapped among all of their belongings, Reitz added.
"I've seen pathways that go clear to the ceiling," Reitz said. "We find missing animals and maggots all the time. It's been gross. And it doesn't surprise me one bit about a person."
It's unclear how dogs missed the remains during the numerous searches Las Vegas police and other volunteers conducted.
But the clutter and the triple-digit summer could have been factors, one expert said.
Harry Oakes is a Washington-based search and rescue coordinator and instructor who has conducted K-9 searches in Las Vegas.
"If the house smelled really bad, that could throw a search dog off," Oakes said. "The handlers may have missed something, but the other issue is the heat. The heat dries out the dog's sinuses, it dries the nose out."
Rotting food, body decomposition, nicotine and other chemicals can throw off both the dog and his handler, Oakes added.
But in his 38 years as a search and rescue coordinator he said "this is the strangest one I've ever seen."
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