Man charged after bone fragments found
The Pike County sheriff's office has charged a man with abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence in connection with human bone fragments that investigators found in a burn pile last week while searching for a missing woman from southern Ohio.
They cannot yet say with certainty, however, that the bones found are those of 77-year-old Bernice Hayslip, who hasn't been seen or heard from since August 2016. Pike County Deputy William Stansberry said investigators are awaiting verification of that suspicion.
Brandon Friend, 24, of Peebles, appeared in Pike County Court on Wednesday morning to answer to the two felony charges. A judge set his bond at $40,000 cash.
A week ago, sheriff's investigators searched two properties in rural Pike County looking for clues in the disappearance and presumed death of Hayslip. The investigation started after the neighboring Highland County sheriff's office passed along information that a deputy received during a traffic stop that indicated Hayslip may have been the victim of a homicide.
She had never been reported missing, and money from her retirement and Social Security deposits was being used, Stansberry said. He said he is meeting with some of Hayslip's relatives Thursday to get more information about why she has never been reported missing.
Her daughter, 44-year-old Tracy Sowards, was arrested and charged last week with misuse of a credit card in connection with the investigation. On Tuesday, a charge of receiving stolen property was added. Stansberry said that during questioning last week, Sowards admitted to having Hayslip's credit cards in her purse.
Sowards is being held on a $20,000 bond.
Deputies last week also arrested Sowards' ex-boyfriend, 49-year-old Johnny M. Kerns. He is being held on a probation violation.
Stansberry said Friend and Kerns are acquaintances.
The properties searched were a residence in the 2700 block of Hackleshin Road in Latham, which was Kerns' current address and Sowards home for a time, and a trailer and property at 2345 Lapperell Road. The latter is where the bones were found in the burn pile.
Pike County Coroner David Kessler had brought in a team of forensic anthropologists from Pennsylvania to assist in the search, and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and cadaver dogs also assisted.