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 went missing some time in 2020, according to the sheriff’s office.
“We do not have a definitive date when she was killed,” Aaron Sarver, Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson, told NBC News.
However, police believe she has been dead for multiple years.
Wamsley and Barnes had been under investigation in connection to Sullivan’s death since December 2020, Sarver said. At first they were arrested on charges spanning animal cruelty and drug possession but by December 2021, Barnes was charged with concealing a death and Wamsley received the same charge on Jan. 7, 2021, the sheriff’s office said.
For years 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, North Carolina, which led its owners to discover a container holding Sullivan’s body, Sgt. Mark Walker with the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office told ABC affiliate WLOS. 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 said to the station. “If I could give that duck a medal, I would.”
“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,” Sarver said.
Officers attended the autopsy and “made personal observations of the body and spoke with staff” and found probable cause for warrants of first-degree murder, Sarver said.
The official cause of death will be released by the medical examiner’s office when they have completed their 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 set for May 13, court records show. It’s not clear if they have entered pleas.
They’re both being held at Buncombe County Sheriff’s department, Barnes on $168,000 bond and Wamsley on $32,000 bond, according to jail records.