Pet Duck in North Carolina Finds Body Investigators Have Been Searching for Since 2020

Police photo of Wamsley and Barnes
Sherrif's Department

90-year-old Nellie Sullivan had been missing since 2020 and the suspects arrested in connection with her disappearance had steered authorities in the wrong direction.

A pet duck in North Carolina had a hand — or wing — in moving a missing person’s investigation from over two years ago along, according to the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office.

Nellie Sullivan, 90, who suffered from health problems that included dementia, went missing mid-December of 2020. Officials have charged Angela Wamsley, 46 — the granddaughter of the deceased — and her husband, Mark Barnes, 50, with first-degree murder in connection to her death, according to authorities.

The Buncombe County Sheriff's Office said they opened an investigation in December of 2020, and felt that Sullivan’s disappearance was suspicious from the beginning, resulting in the couple being brought into custody, according to Buncombe County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Mark Walker, with the Major Case Unit.

“It became pretty apparent almost immediately that Miss Sullivan had disappeared under what can be said suspicious circumstances,” Walker said.

In addition to Barnes being charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, the couple were initially charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty, unlawfully reconnecting a utility, animal abandonment and synthetic cannabinoid possession, according to a Facebook post by the department.

Following their arrest, authorities continued to search for the elderly woman, issuing multiple search warrants. This led the detectives to discover that Wamsley and Barnes allegedly continued to collect the grandmother's benefits checks and continued to have her prescriptions filled.

"On December 20, 2021, Mr. Barnes was charged with concealing a death and Ms. Wamsley received the same charge on January 7, 2021," according to the statement from the sheriff's office. 

"Wamsley was also charged with assault with a deadly weapon on a Detention Officer at the Buncombe County Detention Facility in January of 2021."

In March 2021, the couple was charged with obtaining a controlled substance by fraud or forgery, trafficking in heroin or opium by possession, trafficking in heroin or opium by transport, and felony conspiracy, according to authorities.

According to the sheriff’s office, Barnes allegedly gave the authorities a location to search for the grandmother’s remains that led to no discovery. This lack of evidence barred authorities to convict the couple of murder.

On April 14, new evidence was found when a pet duck in Candler, North Carolina, ran from its owners and scurried underneath a trailer. When the owners tried to retrieve the duck, they came across the container that Sullivan’s body had been placed in, under the trailer, according to People.

"If I could give that duck a medal, I would," Walker told WLOS 13 News.

Investigators believe Sullivan was murdered at one location and then later brought to the trailer, according to the local outlet.

According to authorities, they have not yet determined exactly how or when Sullivan was killed, and an anthropologist is working to determine how long ago Sullivan was killed.

Barnes and Wamsley — whose lawyers were not available for comment — are being held without bond and it is unknown if they have entered pleas to any of the charges against them.

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