Arrest made in disappearance of Angier woman

May 19, 2008 5:49:57 PM PDT
Charlotte police have arrested a Union County man in the disappearance of a state insurance investigator missing since Wednesday.

Police said Monday that Michael Arthur Howell, 40, of Indian Trail, is charged with first-degree murder and is being held in the Mecklenburg County jail without bond.

Sallie Rohrbach, 44, of Angier, has not been heard from since Wednesday.

Rohrbach was in Charlotte to follow up on a complaint and do an investigation and audit of Howell's Dilworth Insurance Agency. She was last seen Wednesday between 3 and 4 p.m.

Officers say the search for Rohrbach is no longer a rescue mission, but now a recovery.

"Unfortunately, there's still that hope. But, more than likely, what we're looking for is her body. And that priority is to locate her and bring her home as soon as I can," Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Information Officer Julie Hill said.

Rohrback's state-owned Chevrolet Malibu was found Sunday morning at a Bojangles' restaurant in Charlotte, less than a mile from the agency.

Police spent the day Sunday searching the area around the restaurant with help from firefighters, tracking dogs and a helicopter. Nine criminal investigators from the North Carolina Insurance Department were sent to Charlotte to help in the case.

Officials say they have not found Rohrbach's body, but are confident in their arrest; based on interviews conducted with people and an accumulation of evidence, physical and other information. Authorities also say that evidence was found in Howell's and Rohrback's cars, but declined to elaborate.

Rohrbach had been scheduled to return to Raleigh on Friday. The Insurance Department said no one had heard from Rohrbach. On Thursday, she reportedly missed dinner with friends and on Friday her family, filed a missing persons report.

Department of Insurance Spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson said Rohrbach was covering for another investigator when she went to Charlotte. Pearson said the department would have known if Rohrbach's plans had changed.

"It was very routine work for Sallie and it was the last thing that we expected to happen to anyone working with the Department of Insurance," she said.

Rohrbach's neighbors say they still cannot grasp the loss. Jean and Jerry Smith said when they learned that the insurance agent she was investigating had been charged with her murder, they were dumbfounded.

"It doesn't make a bit of sense, because Sallie was such a good person it's just hard to imagine anyone would want to hurt anyone that kind and that nice," Jean Smith said.

"We just can't believe it happened yet. We just, we just, we're still expecting her to come home," Jerry Smith added.

Howell, will make his first appearance in court Tuesday afternoon. No lawyer has been appointed.


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