The timeline of the Sherry Arnold case:
• Jan. 7, 2012 – After his wife doesn’t return from a morning jog, Gary Arnold alerts authorities. Sidney Superintendent of Schools Daniel Farr sends out an emergency mass e-mail at 10:37 a.m., asking anyone who knows of Sherry Arnold’s whereabouts to call Gary immediately. Sidney police organize a search starting at 11:30 a.m. at the high school, more than a hundred volunteers respond. The search includes two planes and help from the National Guard. Farr calls the search parties back to the school close to 1:30 p.m. to regroup. Late in the afternoon, a shoe is discovered near Holly Street. As evening conditions near,
• Jan. 9, 2012 – The FBI joins the effort as the lead investigator in the case. Local law enforcement and county fire departments were joined by officials from Roosevelt, McCone and Valley counties as well as Williston and Watford City police and the U.S. Border Patrol. The Richland County Fair Event Center was designated as the information center.
• Jan. 13, 2012 – School officials announce to students and staff that Sherry Arnold passed away. The FBI released a statement Friday morning that a tip from the public led law enforcement to having one adult male who was in custody and another who was being questioned by police. “The investigation to determine what happened to Ms. Arnold continues,” law enforcement said.
• Jan. 15, 2012 – Law enforcement asks property owners to look for signs of a buried body in connection with the case. Williston Police Chief Jim Lokken said evidence in the case of the missing woman suggests she is dead, and authorities are looking in Williams, McKenzie, Divide and Mountrail counties, as well as in northeast Montana, for her body.
The two men being held in the Williams County Correctional Center, Williston, N.D., on aggravated kidnapping cases are identified as 47-year-old Lester Vann Waters Jr. and 22-year-old Michael Keith Spell, both of Parachute, Colo.
• Feb. 14, 2012 – Spell and Waters are extradited to Montana.
• Feb. 17, 2012 – Documents filed in the case include Spell speaking of how Sherry Arnold was forced into a green Ford Explorer and later killed.
• Feb. 28, 2012 – Spell and Waters plea not guilty.
• March 21, 2012 – Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson of the Salt Lake City Division and Sidney Chief of Police Frank DiFonzo say that in the early morning hours of Wednesday, special agents recovered the physical remains of a female. While a positive identification has not been made at this time, it is believed the remains are those of Sherry Arnold. The next day, the Medical Examiner’s Office at the Montana Crime Lab identified the remains recovered near Williston, N.D., as Sherry Arnold’s body.
According to court documents, Waters helped a special agent find the body. After they stopped in Ray, N.D., Waters drew a map from Walmart in Williston to the burial site. He described an area where people were welding pipes at night. Right beside the area was an open field. Waters then went around a curve to a stop sign where he turned right and drove a long ways on a hilly road with curves. He remembered there being guardrails on the road. He told officials to turn right into a field and then up a hill to a shelter belt.
When they arrived at the location, they began walking in the shelter belt north and downhill. Waters recognized the burial site and pointed out where the dirt from the hole was deposited.
According to court records, Waters advised that Sherry Arnold was buried lying on her side in a fetal position. Soon after, Waters became emotional, cried and stated, “I didn’t kill that lady.”
• March 30, 2012 – The funeral for Sherry Arnold is held at 2 p.m. at Sidney High School.
• April 27, 2012 – Richland County Attorney Mike Weber increases the charges in the case from aggravated kidnapping to deliberate homicide and attempted kidnapping.
• May 15, 2012 – Waters and Spell make not guilty pleas. Weber files a “notice of intent to seek the death penalty” on each defendant.
• Jan. 7, 2013 – During omnibus hearings, trial dates were scheduled for Nov. 4 for Waters and Jan. 6, 2014, for Spell.