Paragraph two reads: "Shea Sellers, 50, was found dead April 12 after she had been missing for more than a year. Toxicology results from an autopsy that investigators received last week indicate she had five antidepressants, a prescription sleep aid, painkillers and alcohol in her system, Sexton said. Her body was so badly decomposed that it was impossible to determine the quantities she had ingested, he said."
She had been missing for 10 days when her family called police on Jan. 19, 2009. Investigators searched her home and nearby Lake Tuscaloosa for several months, because she had indicated that if she ever killed herself it would be by drowning in the lake.
Investigators were criticized for not finding Sellers' body sooner. Sexton said that the investigation was handled properly.
“When her family called, they asked for it to be kept pretty low-key,” Sexton said. Sellers was one of 116 people reported missing to the Sheriff's Office in 2009, he said. Most of those cases are handled by the office's Criminal Investigations Division, but this one was investigated by the Tuscaloosa County Metro Homicide Unit because of the likelihood that it could turn into a death investigation, he said.
The home was not considered a crime scene because there was no evidence that a crime had occurred, he said.
“Based on the note and things she had said, it was believed very strongly that she was in the lake,” he said. Investigators asked her family members twice to provide the keys to the car, he said, but they could not be located.
“Keep in mind that this was a missing persons case, not a crime,” Sexton said. “In the meantime, the lake was the primary target of our search.”
In March 2009, the homicide investigators asked Alabama Bureau of Investigation investigators to review the case, which Sexton said is not routine but not uncommon. They also requested that the special agent in charge of Tuscaloosa's FBI office look at the case because he was previously assigned to the behavioral science unit at FBI headquarters in Quantico, Va.
The case was eventually moved to the criminal investigations division, he said. The department received several phone calls from people who thought they had seen Sellers or who had heard that she had checked into different hospitals.
“We followed up on every one of those,” Sexton said.
Several experts were also called for assistance during the investigation.
Investigators contacted experts at the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center in Knoxville, who said that it was not odd that the decomposing body did not give off an odor, Sexton said.
“It was the middle of winter, in an airtight car trunk in a shaded, closed garage,” Sexton said. “They said that it was not uncommon for that to happen in that kind of time frame, temperature and location.”
Dr. Keith Jacoby, a forensic anthropologist, was present at the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences lab in Northport when her body was removed and when the evidence was being processed, he said.
“We're almost through with this process. We hope to have the report concluded and the investigation completed by next week,” Sexton said.