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Matthew Brown, Associated Press, Published March 21 2012

Montana teacher's body likely found near Williston

BILLINGS, Mont. – Authorities said Wednesday they found a body outside Williston, N.D., believed to be that of a missing teacher allegedly snatched from Sidney, Mont., during a morning run more than two months ago.

The body – believed to be 43-year-old Sherry Arnold – was being sent to the Montana state medical lab in Missoula for further identification, said Sidney Assistant Police Chief Robert Burnison.

Authorities said the body had been buried. That matches up with the alleged confession of one of two men charged in the case.

The recovery effort started Tuesday in western North Dakota about 50 miles from Sidney, and the body was removed early Wednesday morning, authorities said.

It’s not clear what led authorities to that location.

The discovery of the remains across state lines from where the alleged kidnapping occurred means federal charges could be filed against the two suspects in the case.

Michael Keith Spell, 22, and Lester Van Waters Jr., 48, both of Parachute, Colo., have been charged in state court and were being held on $2.5 million bail each.

Arnold was a popular veteran math teacher at Sidney High School, where her husband, Gary, also worked and her two children attended school. She grew up on a ranch outside Sidney, a city of 5,000 near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers that’s been drastically changed by a recent oil boom.

Arnold’s father, Ron Whited, said he met with authorities Wednesday afternoon about the possible recovery of her body. “Whatever there is to say, the law enforcement and FBI have to say it,” he said.

FBI spokeswoman Deborah Bertram said no further details would be immediately released regarding where Arnold’s body was found or whether any other evidence was present.

Spell and Waters pleaded not guilty last month to one count each of aggravated kidnapping during an arraignment in state district court in Sidney. The charge carries a potential death penalty in Montana if the victim is not released unharmed.

A similar federal charge could also carry a death penalty upon conviction.

Court documents filed by the prosecutor in the case indicate Spell has confessed to his role in what an affidavit described as the crack-fueled abduction and killing of Arnold. Authorities have said Spell attempted to take FBI agents to the site but he could not find it.

Arnold was grabbed from along a Sidney street – apparently at random – while she was jogging near her home. Spell told investigators he pulled her into a car and Waters choked her to death before they buried her in a shallow grave on a farmstead near Williston.

Farmers and other property owners were alerted by the FBI to be on the lookout for stirred up plots of ground or grass that might conceal a grave. Authorities have said the alert drew multiple leads, but none panned out until this week.


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