RENO, Nev. – The victim's persistent family, some old-fashioned detective work and a little bit of luck led to the discovery of a man's body in a shallow grave in Nevada's high desert and the arrest of his widow, now accused of killing him more than a decade ago, the local sheriff says.
Pam Erwin, 57, of Elko, was booked at the Humboldt County Jail in Winnemucca on Tuesday on suspicion of fatally stabbing James Erwin in September 2003 at their home in Golconda, about 165 miles northeast of Reno. Out-of-state siblings reported him missing three months later.
Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Allen said he can't discuss specifics because the investigation is continuing and "we do anticipate making another arrest."
"We received some information on a possible gravesite that was not that detailed but it was enough to follow up on," Allen told The Associated Press late Wednesday. "We were actually organizing a large search utilizing our search and rescue crews but our detective found it on his own. We were expecting to be out there for hours if not days."
Pam Erwin made an initial appearance Wednesday in Humboldt County Justice Court. She was appointed a public defender, Matt Stermitz, but her preliminary hearing has not yet been set, court officials said Thursday.
Stermitz did not immediately respond to a telephone message or email seeking comment.
James Erwin's body was found buried in the foothills south of Golconda within a mile or two of U.S. Interstate 80 and about 20 miles southeast of Winnemucca, Allen said. He said DNA tests confirmed the identity.
Detectives had been investigating the case off-and-on since 2003 but agreed to intensify those efforts about a year ago after talks with the victim's family members, including a younger sister who spent years trying to generate interest in the case through a variety of missing person sites on the Internet.
"We've been in close communication with her from the onset," Allen said. "They made some phone calls to us and we decided to take another look at it so we sat down and brainstormed about some ideas about how to develop some new leads and those panned out."
Pamela Bruns, the sister, posted a message late Wednesday on the sheriff's Facebook site.
"Thank you Humboldt County Sheriff's Office," she wrote. "This has been a long 12 years coming. ... Prayers answered. RIP dear brother."
James Erwin was 50 when he disappeared. He lived in the Winnemucca area as well as Golconda and worked in the mining industry.
Bruns, who lives in the Kansas City area, told AP on Thursday she needed more time to adjust to the news and discuss it with her siblings before talking about it with the media.
In multiple Internet postings over the years she had urged anyone with information about her brother's case to come forward.
"He has now been missing for almost five years with absolutely no contact with his family," she wrote in April 2008 on the site, Websleuths.com. "He would never stop corresponding with his family. This case has gone on for so long with little or no leads. PLEASE HELP!!!!!"