The Associated Press
KNOBEL, Ark. (AP) -- A state police investigator says he and a
sheriff may be getting close to asking a prosecutor to bring charges
in a death that occurred 16 years ago.
Special Agent Phil Carter of the Arkansas State Police is the second
investigator with his agency to look into the death of farm laborer
Earnest Lonnie Earles -- the first investigator has since retired.
Carter said he suspects Earles was killed, but no one has been
arrested and it would be hard to get a murder charge to stick.
"We don't even have a body," Carter said. "Making a murder case
without a body is not easy."
Even so, Carter feels he and Clay County Sheriff Ronnie Cole may be
getting close to seeking charges.
Last year, Carter developed information while working on another
criminal case in a nearby county. After reviewing the old file,
Carter and Cole "developed a number of new leads," Carter said.
They searched a rural area near the Black River on two different
occasions, using dogs trained to detect cadavers. And they now
believe Earles was shot and killed after being lured to an area near
"We have developed more than one suspect," Carter said. "We have been
able to interview potential suspects, and we will conduct additional
interviews. With the aid of forensics developed since this file was
first opened, we hope we can build a case with the new evidence we
The case started June 21, 1987, when a missing persons report was
filed in Clay County by a family member. Twenty-five-year-old "Ernie"
Earles was missing from his home in Knobel.
Over the years, officers ran repeated computer checks on his Social
Security and driver's license numbers with no results. The first
state police officer assigned to the case, Jerry Brogdon, retired,
and the file passed on to Carter.
Investigators reviewed Earles' activities over the several days
before he was reported missing. They knew the farm laborer was
involved in a fight at a private party. The man involved was
interviewed, but Carter said the two resolved their differences later
the same night. And in early 1990, the man was fatally injured in a
one-vehicle traffic accident.
"All leads went cold for about a year after Earles was reported
missing," Carter said. "Then Brogdon started developing evidence that
Earles was killed. The rumor mill was thick. We tracked down the man
involved in the fight with Earles and even looked at a rumor that his
accident was murder to cover up something."
But Carter said they weren't able to establish any link between the
fight and the accident and Earles' disappearance.
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The new information has kept them going for the last year, though,
and Carter and Cole are planning more searches using cadaver dogs.