Local News

Police: Enough evidence to file murder charge in Angier woman's disappearance

Posted May 19, 2008 2:51 a.m. EDT
Updated May 19, 2008 6:11 p.m. EDT

— Police continued to search Monday for the body of a missing Angier woman, saying they believe she was killed by the owner of a Charlotte insurance agency.

Sallie Rohrbach, 44, an auditor with the state Department of Insurance, traveled to Charlotte last Wednesday to audit Dilworth Insurance Agency. Her husband said she was filling in for a colleague.

Michael Arthur Howell, 40, of 5405 Frederick St. in Indian Trail, the owner of the insurance agency, was arrested early Monday and charged with murder in Rohrbach's disappearance. He was being held without bond in the Mecklenburg County Jail, pending an initial court appearance Tuesday afternoon.

Rohrbach was last seen between 3 and 4 p.m. Wednesday in uptown Charlotte at a strip mall called Dilworth Station, and she was reported missing Friday after she didn't show up for a meeting at work, according to Charlotte-Mecklenburg police.

Rohrbach’s body hasn't been found, but investigators said they gathered enough evidence from an interview with Howell and searches of his car, Rohrbach's car and the insurance agency to file the murder charge.

"We feel pretty good about this case," said Julie Hill, spokeswoman for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

The state-owned 2007 Chevrolet Malibu Rohrbach was driving was recovered over the weekend behind a Bojangles’ restaurant that is less than a mile from Howell's insurance agency. That prompted investigators to launch ground and air searches for her.

Investigators also found Rohrbach’s belongings Sunday in her hotel room. Her work and personal cell phones were turned off, police said.

"We are continuing the searches where we've got indications that there are some possible leads," Hill said.

Department of Insurance spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson said Rohrbach was auditing an administrative complaint at Dilworth Insurance Agency.

"Sally was in Charlotte because she worked for the Department of Insurance. That makes it so much more difficult for us," Pearson said. "The fact that her work ended her life, we're at a loss for words.

"We find ourselves going back and thinking, 'Is there something more we could have done? What could have been done differently?'" she said. "Sally gave us no indication she was concerned about this case. It was a routine case. She was looking at some finances, looking at the books."

People who worked near Howell's insurance agency said they also were stunned by the turn of events.

"(He's) nice, normal, like a regular guy," said Sandy Courtney, who owns a coffee shop next door to the agency. "I've seen Mike every day for 3½ years."

"It's still sinking in," said Damien Bailey, who works at the coffee shop. "I'm having a hard time believing it, but apparently, there's been a substantial amount of evidence gathered.

"It's very creepy."

Anyone with information about Rohrbach’s disappearance or death is asked to contact the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department at 704-336-2311 or Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600.