Missing State Worker: Murder Charge, No Body

Man audited by N.C. insurance official held on murder charge; cops hunt remains.

ByDAVID SCHOETZ

May 19, 2008— -- North Carolina authorities have charged a man with the murder of a state insurance auditor — but still have not recovered the woman's body.

The Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department announced today the arrest of Michael Arthur Howell, 40, on a charge of first-degree murder in the case of Sallie Rohrbach, 44, according to a police department media release.

"Detectives are continuing the investigation and seeking any information that will lead to the location of Mrs. Rohrbach's remains," the release said.

Rohrbach, an agency examiner with the North Carolina Department of Insurance, disappeared Wednesday while conducting an audit of the Dilworth Insurance Agency, which is owned and operated by Howell, police said. Rohrbach was last seen Wednesday afternoon and was reported missing on Friday.

On Sunday, Rohrbach's state-issued Chevrolet Malibu was recovered in the parking lot of Bojangle's restaurant in Charlotte, about a mile from the insurance agency office.

Detectives searched the area by foot and from the air, but did not find the woman's body. Authorities also searched Howell's car and business. Enough information was recovered for investigators to obtain a warrant for Howell's arrest.

It is unclear what type of evidence — or perhaps confession — authorities had in order to obtain an arrest warrant on a murder charge.

"We can't at this time," Robert Fey, a spokesman for the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department said when asked about disclosing evidence in the case. "We have not recovered a body."

Howell was arrested late Sunday night and booked early this morning into the Mecklenburg County Jail, where he is being held on the murder charge, police said.

"It's an ongoing investigation," Fey said. "We're still trying to piece together his whereabouts from last Wednesday to the time of his arrest."

No one answered the phone at the Dilworth Insurance Agency. It is unclear whether Howell has retained an attorney.

Rohrbach was an agency examiner whose duties generally included following up on complaints about insurance agencies, according to Chrissy Pearson, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Insurance.

She was one of four state employees who would be dispatched throughout the state to comb through financial records and meet with insurance agents in question, Pearson said.

In this case, Rohrbach was covering for another investigator when she went to Charlotte to interview Howell, Pearson said.

Pearson would not reveal the exact nature of the complaint against Howell, but she said it was "not unusually grievous in nature." Howell has maintained an insurance license in North Carolina for roughly 20 years, according to Pearson.

Agency examiners work closely with the department's criminal investigators and frequently tap them when a complaint rises to a criminal level. Nothing about Howell's case had triggered any particular alarm.

"Sallie gave us no indication that she needed any additional assistance or that she was uncomfortable," Pearson said.

It is the first time that an agency examiner ever died while working for the state insurance department, she said.

"It's such a mystery on so many levels for us," Pearson added. "It's truly shocking. We never thought that in the course of your duties as an agency examiner that your life would be in danger."

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