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Husband suspected of killing wife in North Carolina flown back after arrest in Arizona

"There is a key piece of evidence" in the murder case, the sheriff said, but he would not elaborate.

A North Carolina man suspected of killing his wife was returned to that state from Arizona on Friday, the sheriff in Nash County said.

Rexford Lynn Keel Jr., 57, was arrested Sunday outside Tucson by troopers who had been tipped off to his whereabouts, Nash County, North Carolina, Sheriff Keith Stone said at a news conference Friday.

The woman's cause of death has not officially been determined, and the investigation remains open, the sheriff said.

Keel is facing a first-degree murder charge in the death of Diana Alejandra Keel, 38. Her body was found last week in a wooded area about 30 miles from their home in North Carolina.

Stone on Friday said that officials had "a key piece of evidence that I do not want to elaborate on at this time" in the case.

Rexford Lynn Keel Jr.Pima County NC Sheriffs Department via AP

Keel was questioned as a person of interest in his wife's death March 12, after a worker found her body in Edgecombe County, Stone has said. Diana Keel was reported missing by her daughter March 9, after she learned her mother had not shown up for her job as an emergency room nurse for several days, officials have said.

Keel was not under arrest at the time he was questioned. The Nash County Sheriff's Office said it obtained an arrest warrant March 15 accusing Keel of murder in his wife's death.

Keel then drove west in a pickup he was given access to by his parents, who he was living with after investigators searched his home, Stone said.

On the plane ride back to North Carolina on Friday, Keel did not make any comments about the allegations, Stone said. He said the Keel told him that for three days, he drove for 20 hours a day before he was apprehended in Arizona.

Keel was not armed when he was arrested, the sheriff said.

He has previously said that the woman, a mother of two, appeared to have died of multiple stab wounds.

She had a 10-year-old son with her husband, as well as an 18-year-old daughter, according to the sheriff.

Warrant documents show that more than 60 guns and several other weapons including knives were seized from the couple's home, NBC affiliate WRAL of Raleigh reported Friday. Keel was a machinist and gunsmith, Stone said.

Police said they have not determined a motive in the slaying. "It's still an open investigation, and we’re in the process of trying to sort all of that out at this time," Stone said.

In 2006, Keel's first wife, Elizabeth Edward Keel, died at her home in Nashville, about 50 miles east of Raleigh, from blunt trauma to the head after falling on concrete steps, the sheriff's department said. Her death was ruled accidental.

Stone said Friday that investigators will interview the pathologist involved in that case and detectives will go from there in that investigation. "What we’re trying to do is finish up one investigation before we embark on another," Stone said.

An arraignment for Keel is scheduled for Tuesday, Stone said.

The sheriff praised Arizona state troopers in the arrest of Keel, which he said occurred 18 minutes after police there got a tip that Keel was in the area.