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A North Carolina couple were busted on murder charges after a pet duck led investigators to the decomposing remains of a missing 92-year-old grandmother, police said.
Mark Alan Barnes and Angela Lucille Wamsley were charged in the death of Nellie Lucille Sullivan, Wamsley's grandmother, after a waterfowl found the elderly woman’s remains under the couple’s trailer in Candler, North Carolina — about 10 miles west of Asheville.
According to North Carolina news station, a pet duck belonging to the new renters who currently occupy the couple’s former trailer ran underneath the mobile home, where a makeshift grave was found.
“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,” Sgt. Mark Walker of Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office told Asheville television station WLOS. “If I could give that duck a medal, I would.”
Walker described the prior search efforts to locate 92-year-old woman as a "wild goose chase."
An autopsy subsequently confirmed the woman’s remains were Sullivan, according to the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office. Her cause and manner of death weren’t immediately released by officials.
“Since the beginning of this investigation, we have sought to locate Ms. Sullivan’s remains, afford her the respect she deserved and restore dignity to the life she once lived,” Angie Tullis, captain of the Criminal Investigation Division at the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, said in a statement on April 21.
The investigation dates back to December 2020, when county authorities arrested Barnes and Wamsley on charges related to concealing Sullivan’s death. Investigators at that point accused Barnes of burying Sullivan in a “shallow grave," searches of nearby land and search warrants served on various properties were initially unsuccessful in locating the woman’s remains.
Neighbors, however, told North Carolina outlet WLOS that the elderly woman had actually been missing for years.
At the time of Sullivan's disappearance, the couple were also charged with a series of felonies and misdemeanors, including animal cruelty, unlawfully reconnecting a utility, two counts of abandonment of an animal, possession of a Schedule Three controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a synthetic cannabinoid. Barnes was also slapped with an additional charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
In March, Barnes and Wamsley were further charged with four counts of fraud and forgery, felony conspiracy possession, felony conspiracy transport and multiple heroin drug trafficking charges.
Sullivan’s friends had previously been tormented for months after the elderly woman initially vanished without a trace.
“It bothers me really bad,” neighbor Belinda Moody also told WLOS in 2020. “I want to know what happened to her.”
Moody described Sullivan as a “sweet, little old lady.”
“She’d give you the clothes off her back if she could,” she added.
A spokesperson for the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office didn’t immediately respond to Oxygen.com’s questions surrounding the case when contacted on Monday.
The accused North Carolina couple are being held at a Buncombe County detention facility, according to online jail records. Barnes' and Wamsley's bonds were set at $168,000 and $32,000, respectively.
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