updated 5/20/2008 9:10:19 PM ET 2008-05-21T01:10:19

Authorities searching a wooded area on Tuesday found the body of a North Carolina insurance investigator who prosecutors believe was killed by the owner of an agency she was auditing.

Police had been looking for Sallie Rohrbach, 44, since she was reported missing Friday. Michael Howell, 40, has been charged with first-degree murder in her death.

Chrissy Pearson, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Insurance, and police confirmed the body's identity.

"We are devastated that all hope is lost, but we also find a sense of closure in knowing that we can lay to rest our dear friend and colleague with the dignity and respect she deserves," Pearson said.

Her body was found near Fort Mill, S.C., about 25 miles away from Howell's Dilworth Insurance Agency in Charlotte.

Rohrbach traveled 170 miles from Raleigh last week and planned to spend several days auditing the agency. When family and co-workers didn't hear from her, they called police.

Authorities said Rohrbach's slaying was connected to her duties as an auditor and that evidence was found in both her car and Howell's vehicle. They have released little other information, including a suspected cause of death.

"Needless to say we collected enough evidence from the cars to charge him with murder," said Bob Fey, spokesman for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

Police began searching in South Carolina on Monday.

"We developed information that led us to her whereabouts," Fey said. That included statements Howell made to investigators, but Fey declined to elaborate.

Earlier Tuesday, Howell made an initial court appearance where a judge denied his request for a public defender.

Public defender Susan Weigand appeared with Howell and argued he cannot afford to pay for two attorneys, so he would be entitled as a defendant in a capital murder case.

District Court Judge Bill Constangy — citing Howell's $6,000 monthly income and $7,200 in expenses — ruled he has enough income to pay for his own defense.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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