The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office is pleading for the public’s help in finding a Vadnais Heights woman believed to be buried in an abandoned barn or farm building in eastern North or South Dakota.
“With the hunting season starting this weekend in the Dakotas, we are asking people to keep an eye open for anything that may lead to the whereabouts of Michelle Newell’s body,” Chief Deputy Jack Serier said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
He urged residents to look in their buildings and on their properties for any clues of the 45-year-old woman’s whereabouts. Authorities believe that Timothy J. Barr, 51, of Lakeville, killed Newell between Aug. 30 and 31 and buried her in the corner of a building under hay or grass.
Several search warrant affidavits filed in the case reveal hints of a gruesome crime and Barr’s apparent attempt to influence the investigation from inside jailhouse walls.
“Affiant believes the murder was violent and Newell was taken and held against her will,” said one affidavit. “Affiant believes Newell … may have physically fought with Barr during the incident.”
Barr, who was arrested Sept. 20 and has been uncooperative with the investigation, appeared to show little contrition in a jailhouse phone call to his sister.
“…They snitched,” Barr said about the three informants — a woman and her parents — that reported him to police. “The whole family got giddy and excited to the point that they left the keys and locked themselves out of the house. They were all in on it.”
An investigator reviewed Barr’s calls on Sept. 23, the day after he was charged in Ramsey County District Court with two counts of second-degree murder without intent and one count of criminal vehicular homicide.
“Don’t say nothing to the police,” Barr allegedly told his sister. “The word is accidental and you shouldn’t say nothing.”
Barr placed another call at 7:29 p.m. on Sept. 23 to a woman whose relationship to him is not specified.
“I’m doing alright,” Barr told the woman. “I’m sorry for throwing a little excitement in your life.”
Authorities believe Newell is buried in eastern North or South Dakota based on information from confidential informants, cellphone records and surveillance footage that captured Newell and Barr in an Alexandria, Minn. Taco Bell about 9 p.m. on Aug. 29.
Authorities have searched parts of the Dakotas to no avail.
“Every day that passes, you know, it becomes harder and harder to ensure that we’ll be able to locate her this fall yet,” Serier said.
Newell was last seen alive on Aug. 30 in Cass County, according to the sheriff’s office. A Cass County sheriff’s deputy made contact with a lone Barr on Aug. 31, leading authorities to believe that Newell was killed sometime in that time frame, said sheriff’s Commander Ty Sheridan.
Family members reported her missing on Sept. 8, noting that they last had contact with her on Aug. 29.
Sheridan said authorities believe Newell initially left willingly with Barr.
In mid-September, police heard from the informants, who said Barr gave them these accounts of what happened: A woman stole a pound of methamphetamine from him and hid it in the woods, and he ran her over by accident when she hid under his car. He and the woman were going to South Dakot to sell her associates some methamphetamine. She refused his sexual advances and hid under his car, and he accidentally ran her over.
One search warrant affidavit alleges that Barr made disturbing comments to witnesses as he cleaned his car trunk with bleach in St. Paul on Sept. 5.
“Life goes by fast,” Barr allegedly said, “like fruit flies on a banana.”
Anyone with information is asked to call 651-266-7320 or 911.