4 arrested in Butler County cold case - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

4 arrested in Butler County cold case

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Carla Austin, a Butler County woman killed in 1999, is pictured here with her daughter Mindy. Carla Austin, a Butler County woman killed in 1999, is pictured here with her daughter Mindy.
John Austin bonded out of jail early Thursday afternoon. John Austin bonded out of jail early Thursday afternoon.
Tracy Rea, of Neosho, MO.  She is Austin's step-daughter. Tracy Rea, of Neosho, MO. She is Austin's step-daughter.
Melissa Baggett, Austin's step-daughter Melissa Baggett, Austin's step-daughter
Henry 'Marlin' Rice was arrested at his apartment. Henry 'Marlin' Rice was arrested at his apartment.
BUTLER COUNTY, MO (KFVS) -

Investigators make a huge break in a Butler County cold case.

Authorities arrested four people Thursday in connection with the 1999 murder of Carla Ann Austin.

Investigators say probable cause exist that the four suspects conspired to kill Carla Ann Austin.

Arrested are Austin's step-daughters, another member of her late husband's family and a family friend.

Melissa Baggett, John Austin and Henry 'Marlin' Rice all of Qulin, along with Tracy Rea, of Neosho all face second degree murder charges.

John Austin bonded out of jail early Thursday afternoon.

Tracy Austin waived arraignment and pleaded not guilty on Friday. She is due back in court on May 10.

Melissa Baggett waived arraignment, pleaded not guilty on Friday. She is due back in court on April 26.

For Austin's biological daughters, this is a day they thought would never come.

"I just can't believe it," said Mindy Crafford.  "Justice can be served.  You won't get away with this."

Heartland News went along Thursday morning as Butler County Sheriff Mark Dobbs, deputies, members of the Highway Patrol and Qulin Police Department made arrests in Qulin.

First, they took John Austin into custody, and then followed a few blocks later to arrest Henry 'Marlin' Rice at his apartment.

Earlier in the day Tracy Rea was arrested in Neosho and just before 3 p.m., her sister Melissa Baggett of Butler County turned herself in.

"This is definitely a complicated case because of the family dynamic," said Sheriff Dobbs.

The arrests come nearly 13 years after Austin's murder.  According to the sheriff statement, Carla Ann Austin was reported missing by her aunt on August 8, 1999. Hunters found her body a few months later in November.

According to the probable cause, Carla Ann Austin's body was found around 30 yards from the tree line inside a patch of woods to the west of a field road.  Authorities say she was positively identified through dental records.

"I've just always wanted to know the truth," said Crafford.  She was eight years old when her mother disappeared.  "We always felt like the family was involved." 

Two years before her mother's killing, Crafford's father Mike Austin took his own life.

"It was hard growing up without both of them."

Sheriff Dobbs says this is a complicated case.

"It was definitely a brutal murder, one of the worst you'll come across," said Sheriff Dobbs. 

Dobbs says interviews with witnesses and examination of Austin's remains helped them piece together how Austin died, and individuals responsible.

"We believe a fight began at Three Sister's Bar in Qulin that night and that Austin was lured from there by other family members," said Sheriff Dobbs.

Witnesses who were at the bar that night told authorities that the four suspects were at odds with Austin and accusing her of killing her husband Mike Austin, according to the sheriff.

Dobbs believes Carla Ann Austin was lured from the bar to a spot near County Road 663.

Investigators believe Austin was with Rea, her step-daughter when the other three suspects showed up.

"Basically we feel confident she was set up and baited to that location and her life was taken out there," said Sheriff Dobbs.

Investigators will only say they believe Carla Ann Austin died by fatal laceration.

Crafford says she still wonders why.

"I hope they are behind bars for a very long time," said Crafford.

"I just believe they always hated her," said Crafford.  

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