North Dakota Extradition Hearing Set in Missing Teacher Case

By Beacon Staff

WILLISTON, N.D. – Two men held in the disappearance of eastern Montana teacher Sherry Arnold faced extradition hearings Tuesday in a North Dakota courtroom.

Lester Vann Waters Jr., 47, and Michael Keith Spell, 22, were scheduled to appear at 3:30 p.m. before Judge Josh Rustad in Williams County District Court in Williston.

The suspects — both from Colorado — face charges of aggravated kidnapping.

Authorities have released few details on what happened to Arnold, who disappeared on Jan. 7 after she left her house in Sidney for a pre-dawn run. She is presumed dead.

Authorities have suggested Arnold’s body might be buried on vacant farmland or in a shelter belt, a line of trees that protects farmland from the region’s strong winds. Landowners in western North Dakota and extreme northeastern Montana have been asked to look for disturbed soil or matted grass as a possible sign of where she was buried.

Both suspects are from Parachute, Colo., which like Sidney has extensive oil and gas development. But scant details have emerged on the suspects’ backgrounds, and it is unclear what they were doing in the Montana-North Dakota area.

Waters has a lengthy criminal record in Florida, where he served time in prison for driving with an invalid license and leaving the scene of a crash that involved an injury, according to the Florida Department of Corrections. He was released in August, 2010 after serving 17 months at a minimum security facility.

Waters was identified as a construction worker as recently 2008, according to booking information from the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office in eastern Florida.

Spell was arrested in Colorado in 2007 on state charges of drug possession, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and sexual contact without consent, but the charges were dropped five months later, according to court records. The records did not say why the charges were dismissed.

Spell also faced charges of careless driving and driving without a license in 2007, but that case also was dropped.

In the days after Arnold disappeared from Sidney, hundreds of residents, police, firefighters and others combed the town and surrounding countryside without success. The only clue into her fate that was publicly released was that one of Arnold’s shoes was found along her running route.

Arnold and her husband, Gary Arnold, have five children combined from prior marriages. Two live at home and attend the same school system where Sherry Arnold worked for the past 18 years.