08/21/05 — Body of woman found in river

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Body of woman found in river

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on August 21, 2005 2:05 AM

The body of a woman who had been reported missing a day earlier by her husband was found Friday afternoon in the Neuse River, officials said.

Brenda Lee Owens of 869 Riverbend Road in the Rosewood community had been murdered, Sheriff Carey Winders said Saturday. Her body was sent to the state Medical Examiner's Office in Chapel Hill to determine the cause of death.

A sheriff's investigator said Mrs. Owens was neither shot nor stabbed, but he declined to reveal the cause of death.

The body of her husband, Robert Earl Owens, 52, was found Thursday afternoon behind their home. His death was attributed to a single, self-inflicted gunshot wound, Winders said.

"This is truly shocking and tragic," the sheriff said. "A lot of people did not foresee problems. It was a shock to them, especially family members."

Winders said he believed Owens killed his wife about 30 minutes before or after midnight Wednesday in their home, placed her body in his vehicle and about three hours later, threw her body in the Neuse River from Ferry Bridge Road. The bridge is about seven miles from their home. On the way back, Winders said Owens stopped at a convenience store, bought an item and returned home.

Mrs. Owens' body floated about a quarter-mile down the river from the bridge and became entangled on a branch. It was found by the sheriff's dive team and the Arr-Mac Water Rescue team from the Arrington and Mar Mac volunteer fire departments.

The couple had been married for about 30 years and had marital difficulties, detectives said. They had three children. A 14-year-old son left the home Wednesday night to visit a friend. They also have two older children.

Despite an extensive search of the Owenses' home, Robert Owens' vehicle and the yard, sheriff's detectives and State Bureau of Investigation special agents could find little evidence of foul play, Winders said. He said the vehicle was "pretty clean" despite where it had been.

After Owens' body was found at about 4 p.m. Thursday, the search shifted to his wife.

"We hoped that she was still alive," Winders said. But as the search went on in the house and barn, their hopes dimmed.

The sheriff's search dogs and their handlers and the search and rescue team combed a one-mile radius, looking into vacant houses, storage buildings and ditches until 2 a.m. Friday. The dive team also explored the Little River.

The sheriff's helicopter, the Raven, a Highway Patrol helicopter and volunteer firefighters from Rosewood, Oakland and Little River joined the search at 9 a.m. Friday. The search area was extended to five miles from the home.

Mar Mac volunteer firefighters brought their boat to the Ferry Bridge Road bridge and searched down river where her body was found.