Body found behind home of missing Wendell woman after months-long search
Posted March 23
Wendell, N.C. — Authorities have found a body behind the Wendell home of a woman who has been missing since last summer, Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said Thursday.
Carolyn Sue Fox, 74, hasn't been seen since July. Wake County Sheriff's Office investigators began searching for her in October after a concerned friend asked deputies to check her home at 6524 Turnipseed Road.
Harrison said the partly decomposed body, which was found Wednesday afternoon, hasn't been identified yet, but investigators have reason to believe it is Fox's.
The body was buried about 3 feet underground in some woods just over the next-door neighbor's property line, he said. It has been sent to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for identification and to determine the cause of death.
Deputies searched the home Fox shared with her son, Stephen Owen Schrader, three times last fall, including bringing in cadaver dogs to check for human remains inside and outside.
Harrison said the dogs alerted several times during those searches, but nothing was strong enough to warrant further investigation. He declined to say what prompted Wednesday's search, which also involved State Bureau of Investigation agents, technicians from the City-County Bureau of Identification and two forensic anthropologists from North Carolina State University.
"We did get some alerts, and that’s the reason we kept going back. We got something that kept telling us we needed to go back," the sheriff said. "We just felt we hadn’t searched well enough to be satisfied. ... We just had that gut feeling that something was there that we were missing."
Friends of Fox told investigators last year that she was afraid of Schrader and that he had been abusive toward her in the past, according to previously released search warrants.
"It is believed that Stephen Owen Schrader is involved in his mother's disappearance and has brought harm to Carolyn Sue Fox," investigators wrote in an application for the search warrants.
Schrader, 53, hasn't been charged in his mother's disappearance, but a grand jury indicted him in October on charges of abuse of a disabled or elderly person resulting in serious injury, exploitation of a disabled or elderly person's trust and obtaining property by false pretense.
He remains in the Wake County jail under a $200,000 bond, and Harrison said investigators were talking with him on Thursday afternoon.
The search warrants state that Schrader gave "vague and inconsistent statements" to investigators about his mother's whereabouts when asked last fall. He first said she had gone to visit people in Canada and later that she had moved to the Philippines because the air was better there for her health, but investigators confirmed that Fox doesn't have a passport and never left the country.
Stephanie Smith often visited with 74-year old Carolyn Fox. She called her sweet lady and said the last several months have been hard.
“It was just so heartbreaking because she was my friend,” Smith said. “I heard about it today, and it broke my heart.”
Schrader also told authorities that his mother had taken her five dogs with her, but investigators found that Schrader had surrendered four dogs to the Wake County Animal Shelter in July.
Neighbors have been watching the investigation unfold over the past several months.
"What I heard the cops were looking for was the body," Tyler James James. "She's been gone for several months, so I wasn't too surprised, honestly."
Smith said she if it the person is Fox, she hopes justice is served because "this is a lady with a heart of gold."
“I was very concerned along with a lot more of her friends about the abuse and such that was going on,” she said.
Harrison said he hopes to have the identity of the body from the Medical Examiner in the next couple days.