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Ranchers asked to help search for body of missing Montana teacher

By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times –

SEATTLE — Authorities are appealing to farmers and ranchers in the remote wheat fields along the North Dakota-Montana border for help in finding the body of schoolteacher Sherry Arnold, who disappeared more than a week ago while jogging near her home in Sidney, Mont.

At a news briefing Monday, police said they now believe that the body of Arnold, 43, a popular high school math teacher, might be buried somewhere near Williston, about 45 miles east of Sidney.

“We have reason to believe Mrs. Arnold is deceased; however, her body has not been recovered,” Williston Police Chief Jim Lokken told reporters at the briefing. “Due to the widespread area, at this point we feel it prudent for us to request help from landowners.”

Hundreds of Sidney-area citizens joined in the search for Anderson after her disappearance on Jan. 7. Her shoe was found along the route she normally used for jogging, but no other signs of her have been reported.

Lokken said authorities believe that Anderson’s body may be buried in a shelterbelt, or wind barrier, containing mature or rotted trees. The FBI also released a statement appealing to local farmers and ranchers to check for disturbed soil and matted grass near shelterbelts and around vacant farmsteads.

Police have said they have taken two Parachute, Colo., men — Lester Vann Waters Jr., 47, and Michael Keith Spell, 22 — into custody in connection with the case. Both are being held in the Williams County Jail in Williston on charges of aggravated kidnapping.

The Associated Press reported 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 that the charges were dropped five months later.

Few details were released at Monday’s news briefing, despite wide interest in the case across the region. Small towns in the area, such as Sidney, have been undergoing significant growing pains associated with the influx of outsiders rushing to develop oil and gas along the Montana-North Dakota border.

Sidney Police Chief Frank DiFonzo told the Billings Gazette that police in the town of 5,000 are responding now to more bar fights, domestic violence and drunken driving.

“This is a first-time event for our community,” DiFonzo said at the briefing. “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.”

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