'Wild goose chase': Pet duck helps find body of missing woman with dementia; granddaughter charged

'If I could give that duck a medal, I would,' said Buncombe County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Mark Walker

ByHannah Mackenzie, CNNWire
Monday, May 2, 2022
Pet duck helps find body of missing woman; granddaughter charged
Police said a pet duck found the body of a missing woman whose granddaughter allegedly concealed her death and collected her social security benefits.

BUNCOMBE COUNTY, N.C. -- Investigators say a pet duck helped locate the body of a murdered woman on April 14, 2022, at a home in Candler, WLOS reported.

Angela Wamsley and Mark Barnes are charged with murdering Wamsley's grandmother, Nellie Sullivan. Sullivan, in her 90's, was determined to be missing in 2020, 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.

Walker said Wamsley and Barnes, who were already in jail, were previously charged, in mid-December 2020, with concealing a death in connection to the case, but investigators didn't find Sullivan's body until mid-April of 2022. According to Walker, years of search warrants and state and federal assistance led nowhere.

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"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.

That goose chase eventually ended, thanks to the pet duck.

"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. "If I could give that duck a medal, I would."

Investigators said they believe Sullivan was murdered at a different location, then brought to the trailer.

"Her remains have been sent to an anthropologist for further examination just so we can try to nail down exactly how long she's been deceased," Walker added. "We do know it was multiple years."

According to Walker, Wamsley and Barnes concealed the body, then continued to collect Sullivan's social security and retirement benefits. He said they also filled her prescriptions.

"I would like to say that I'm never surprised anymore, but this case -- it was surprising," Walker said.

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The veteran investigator admitted he was shocked by the disregard for human life: An aging grandmother, suffering from health issues, including 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," Walker said.

Sullivan's official cause of death has not yet been released by the medical examiner, as the investigation is still underway.

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