Investigators on Thursday found the remains of Allisha Watts
Digital evidence led investigators to the woods where Allisha Watts' body was found Thursday, Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said. Fields said he believes Watts' body had been there since July 18, two days after she was seen by friends. Watts was 39 years old.
According to Fields, a cadaver dog also helped investigators find Watts' remains.
"[Thursday] was the conclusion of several searches," Fields said. "We had searched in that area seven to eight times we think. We were looking at that area."
'We were following the breadcrumbs'
Fields said he believes Watts' boyfriend, James Dunmore, knew the road. He said this is because it's a back road from Charlotte, where he lives, to Watts' house in Foxfire. "We were following the breadcrumbs, following the evidence and searching different areas up there, searching place to place [and] eliminating spots as we went," Capt. Donnie Shingleton said. Dunmore, 51, is charged with the murder of Watts.
"Anytime you have a situation like this, this is the last thing we pray for," Fields said. "We always pray for the best results." WRAL News asked Fields whether he believes Watts was killed in the woods or elsewhere. "It is our belief she was killed in that [wooded] area," Fields said.
Fields said Watts' body is now at the medical examiner's office in Raleigh for an autopsy. He hopes authorities can determine Watts' cause of death. Speaking with WRAL News on Friday, Fields did not say how Watts died.
"My heartfelt condolences go out to Ms. Watts' family and her friends," Fields said. "She had a big following."
Boyfriend of Allisha Watts' booked into jail without bond for murder
Investigators on Thursday found the remains of Watts, a Moore County woman who was missing more than a month. Dunmore was taken into custody at his Charlotte-area home and arrested for murder. He is being held at the Montgomery County jail without bond.
On Thursday, WRAL News learned a body was found in the area of Norman, a small town along Interstate 74. Investigators have since confirmed the body was Watts. Watts lived in Moore County but traveled to Charlotte on July 14 to visit her boyfriend, Dunmore. Arrest warrants from Montgomery County indicate Watts was killed on July 16, which is the last day she was seen alive.
Watts and Dunmore had tickets to a comedy show in Charlotte at Bojangles Coliseum that night but did not attend, friends told WRAL News. On July 19, Watts' cousin called police to report Watts had not been heard from and had not shown up for work, which was out of character for her.
Watts' body was found more than a month later, on Aug. 24, about 20 minutes away from her home in Foxfire. Her remains were found in the woods behind a cemetery, along a back road leading to her house. Sky 5 flew over the scene at the Norman Community Cemetery along Cemetery Road near the Richmond/Montgomery County line. Moore County Sheriff's Office deputies were gathered at the cemetery, where a bouquet of flowers could be seen in the woods.
Loved ones express grief, devastation
Montgomery County Sheriff Pete Herron expressed his condolences at a press conference at the cemetery. Law enforcement agencies now consider the case a homicide investigation. "This is not the outcome that we had been hoping for, but by finding Allisha today we hope we can bring some closure to family and friends moving forward," Herron said.
The case drew attention from all over the state. Multiple vigils were held in recent weeks, as Watts' family, friends and community prayed for her safe return. Tragically, that never came. "There will be a day of reckoning for this individual that was arrested," Fields said.
Family at the scene said Thursday's news was "heartbreaking, but it's closure." "She is in a better place now," said family friend Bridget Cotton. "We thank everyone for their efforts and prayers." A family member of Watts told WRAL News that boyfriend Dunmore, whom Watts was last seen with on July 16, was taken into custody at his Charlotte-area home by police.
The family member, who lives across the street from Dunmore, recorded video Thursday as he was taken into custody. Dunmore arrived at Montgomery County Jail around 4:30 p.m. His first court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 28 at 9:30 a.m. at Montgomery County Court.
Boyfriend had violent history
Dunmore was found unresponsive in Watts' SUV on July 18, the day before officers with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) filed a missing persons report for Watts. Warrants show Dunmore tried to commit suicide on that day.
Officers told WRAL News when they found Dunmore inside the SUV, he initially told officers he was taking a nap. Three hours later, officers found him unresponsive in the same parking lot. On July 16, Watts and Dunmore left for Charlotte in her black Mercedes SUV. The two had tickets to a comedy show at Bojangles Coliseum but ended up not attending the show.
On July 26, police officers were seen searching Dunmore's Charlotte-area home. At that time, Dunmore was considered a person of interest in Watts' disappearance. Watts’ cousin, Gwen Utley, was the last person who saw Watts and Dunmore. WRAL News uncovered that Dunmore has a violent past -- with past convictions for kidnapping in 2003. Virginia records show Dunmore has convictions for abduction, stalking and assault and battery.
The abduction charge from 2003 carried a maximum prison sentence of five years. Dunmore had a domestic violence protection order taken out against him in May in Durham by a woman who said she was in a relationship with him. The woman said Dunmore kidnapped her and threatened to kill her.
“We were not aware of none of that,” Utley said. “If we were aware of his background and the rap-sheet he has, there is no way it would have sat comfortable with us or Allisha.” The investigation has been a weeks-long effort between the Moore County Sheriff’s Office, Anson County Sheriff’s Office, Foxfire Police Department, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI-Charlotte bureau and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.
The Montgomery County Sheriff's Office has taken over as the lead investigative agency. Friends, family members and neighbors are now hoping for justice in the case.