In North Carolina recently, a pet duck was the final lead needed to solve the case of a missing woman.
After the bird led them to the body of disappeared grandmother Nellie Sullivan, police are charging her granddaughter and grandson-in-law with first-degree murder.
According to the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, Sullivan went missing in 2020 and would have been 93 this year. Police believe she has been dead for multiple years.
“We do not have a definitive date when she was killed,” Buncombe County Sheriff’s spokesperson Aaron Sarver said in a statement.
Officials say that the granddaughter, 46-year-old Angela Wamsley, and her husband, Mark Alan Barnes, 50, were suspects from the start. Police originally arrested the pair on animal cruelty and drug possession charges, and again in 2021 on charges of concealing a death.
“It became pretty apparent almost immediately that Miss Sullivan had disappeared under what can be said [to be] suspicious circumstances,” Sergeant Mark Walker said.
Despite federal and state assistance and numerous search warrants, police were not any closer to discovering where the body was. Mark Barnes, in jail at the time, was even toying with police.
“Mark [Barnes] actually sent us on a wild goose chase which resulted in us digging for several days in a site that he knew she was not located at,” Walker said.
Police were on the verge of despair until a local family’s pet duck unexpectedly ended the goose chase by revealing Sullivan’s whereabouts.
“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 WLOS-TV. “If I could give that duck a medal, I would.”
Spokesperson Sarver said detectives believe Sullivan was killed at another location before her body was transported to the Beady Eyed Lane address in Chandler.
After conducting an autopsy, Sarver said police found probable cause for warrants of first-degree murder. A forensic anthropologist will examine the remains to try to determine the date of death.
According to police, Wamsley and Barnes were continuing to collect Sullivan’s Social Security and retirement benefits checks after her disappearance, as well as refilling her prescriptions.
Barnes was held on a $168,000 bond and Wamsley on $32,000 bail, according to jail records. They are awaiting a court date on May 13.
Walker was shocked by the disregard for human life demonstrated in the case, and was happy justice could be obtained posthumously for the elderly woman, who had suffered from health issues that included dementia. “Instead of receiving the care she needed from those that are supposed to love her the most, she received the exact opposite in the worst possible way,” he said.
“I would like to say that I’m never surprised anymore, but this case — it was surprising,” he added.