A pet duck led police to crack the case of a missing North Carolina grandmother who vanished over two years ago and led to murder charges against the victim's granddaughter and grandson-in-law, officials said.
Angela Wamsley, 46, and Mark Alan Barnes, 50, were charged with first-degree murder Thursday in the death of Wamsley’s grandmother Nellie Sullivan, the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office announced.
Officials say Sullivan would be 93 today if she were still alive. She disappeared some time in 2020, according to the sheriff's office.
"We do not have a definitive date when she was killed," said Aaron Sarver, the Buncombe County sheriff’s spokesperson.
However, police believe she has been dead for multiple years.
Wamsley and Barnes had been under investigation in connection with Sullivan's death since December 2020, Sarver said. At first, they were arrested on a variety of charges, from animal cruelty to drug possession, but by December 2021, Barnes had been charged with concealing a death, and Wamsley had received the same charge on Jan. 7, 2021, the sheriff's office said.
Investigators searched for Sullivan without a trace.
A breakthrough in the case came on April 14, when a pet duck dashed under a trailer in Chandler, which led its owners to discover a container holding Sullivan's body, sheriff’s Sgt. Mark Walker told WLOS-TV of Asheville. The sheriff's department confirmed that report to NBC News.
“Apparently, the duck ran underneath the trailer at 11 Beady Eyed Lane, and as they were chasing after their pet duck, they ran across the container that Nellie Sullivan was located in,” Walker told the station. “If I could give that duck a medal, I would.”
Sarver said: "We do not believe she was killed at that address. She was killed at another location and then later transported to where her remains were found."
Officers who attended the autopsy “made personal observations of the body and spoke with staff” and found probable cause for warrants of first-degree murder, Sarver said.
The medical examiner’s office will release the official cause of death when it has completed its independent probe.
Wamsley and Barnes were collecting Sullivan’s Social Security and retirement benefits checks in her absence and were refilling her prescriptions, officials said.
Their next court date is May 13, court records show. It's not clear whether they have entered pleas.
Barnes was being held on $168,000 bond and Wamsley on $32,000 bond, according to jail records.