Officials seek landowners' help in finding body; suspect has criminal history in Florida

Search continues
2012-01-16T11:31:00Z 2014-05-20T15:38:10Z Officials seek landowners' help in finding body; suspect has criminal history in FloridaBy CHELSEA KROTZER Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
January 16, 2012 11:31 am  • 

WILLISTON, N.D. -- Police believe the body of a Sidney math teacher who went missing earlier this month is buried in the Williston, N.D., area.

Sherry Arnold, 43, never returned from a morning run on Jan. 7, resulting in a massive community search that lasted several days. Two Parachute, Colo., men have been arrested and are being held on aggravated kidnapping charges in the Williams County jail in Williston.

At a press conference Monday morning, Williston Police Chief Jim Lokken said investigators are asking property owners in northeastern Montana and the North Dakota counties of Williams, McKenzie, Mountrail and southern Divide County to search for signs of Arnold.

"We are just asking landowners and landowners only," Lokken said. "We don't want the public out there running around in the countryside, the landowners know their land and their property. If they see anything that has been disturbed, we want them to check it out."

Authorities said Arnold's body may be buried in an area with a line of mature or rotted trees, including in shelter belts and on vacant farmsteads where the surrounding grass might be matted. Anyone with information is encouraged to call 701-774-9191.

The men involved in Arnold's disappearance are Lester Vann Waters Jr., 47, and Michael Keith Spell, 22, who are awaiting extradition to Montana. Williams County Sheriff Scott Busching said Waters was arrested in Williston and Spell was arrested in Rapid City, S.D.

Florida prison records show Waters has a criminal history in that state, and he has served time in prison.

The Florida records show Waters has felony convictions for driving without a valid license and leaving the scene of an injury crash. He also served time for a weapons offense. The prison records indicate that Waters has numerous aliases, and it lists his city of residence on release from prison as Sebastian, Fla.

Waters was released from a minimum security corrections facility in August 2010, after serving about 18 months. He also was incarcerated between September 2002 and December 2003, and again between August 2007 and March 2008.

Court records show that Spell was arrested in Colorado in May 2007 on state charges of drug possession, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and sexual contact without consent — but the charges were dropped five months later. The records do not say why the charges were dismissed.

Spell also faced charges of careless driving and driving without a license in 2007, but that case also was dropped.

"The two people we have in the Williams County jail have made court appearances or are in the process," Busching said.

Busching would not say whether the men will be arraigned in federal or state court, saying "that's up to the prosecutors."

That contradicted information from Sidney Police Chief Frank DiFonzo who said Saturday that the men had been arraigned on charges of aggravated kidnapping.

Busching was not sure when Spell and Waters may be extradited to Montana. 

"A lot of this will come out of the prosecution phase," Busching said. "We want to get Mrs. Arnold back to her family. We are not going to put anything out there that will even remotely hinder those efforts."

Busching would not say what brought the men to the Sidney area.

DiFonzo attended the conference and thanked the community for its support and earlier search efforts.

"This is a first-time event for our community," DiFonzo said. "There has been some discussion about whether or not people moving into the area should be scrutinized more closely. I believe that you can't paint everybody with the same brush.

"I think anybody with law enforcement knows it's a very small percentage of the public who do this type of thing. ... We are not in any way pointing our finger at any particular group."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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