A woman found dead in the trunk of her car Monday after being missing for more than a year is thought to have left a 14-page suicide note that investigators found shortly after her disappearance.
A body believed to be that of Sherry Sellers, 50, was found in the trunk of the BMW parked in the garage of her home in the Carmel Bay subdivision on Lake Tuscaloosa.
The discovery was made after the family asked a locksmith to open the vehicle, which has been parked at the house in the upscale neighborhood since Sellers disappeared in January 2009. No one has lived at the home since her disappearance.
“It was a 14-page note that was a last will and testament. It went into detail about what each of the items in her house was worth and who she wanted to have them. It gave the reasons behind her state of mind and indicated that she just could not go on,” said Capt. Loyd Baker, commander of the Tuscaloosa County Metro Homicide Unit.
Authorities focused their search on the lake because she had told people that if she ever took her life, she would drown herself in the lake. Authorities never searched the car because they did not have the keys, which were found in the trunk Monday with her body.
“Most of our focus was on the lake because of statements she had made,” Baker said. “Investigators checked it (the car) externally for disturbances in the dust that had settled and found nothing to suggest anyone was in there. There was no odor. Should we have checked it? Yes. We should have popped the lock. It's my fault.”
An autopsy was being conducted Tuesday to determine the cause of death. Baker said the results could come late Tuesday or today. He said there was no evidence to indicate foul play.
“There are a lot of questions about the how and the when that we're trying to answer. Hopefully, the autopsy will tell us how she died,” he said. “The body was in a bad state of decomposition. There was no obvious cause of death that we noticed when we took her out of the trunk, but that question will have to be answered by a medical examiner.”
Sellers once was a nurse at DCH Regional Medical Center and was the ex-wife of former Tuscaloosa Police Chief Ken Swindle.
Family members called authorities on Jan. 19, 2009, after she had been missing for 10 days. Investigators searched her home and found the letter under some papers in her study just off the garage, Baker said.
“One of the things we were searching for in the house after several days was the odor of decomposition and we never smelled any,” he said.
Dive teams from the Tuscaloosa Police Department, the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Office and the Smith Lake Dive Task Force all searched the lake several times. The Police Department and the sheriff's office flew their helicopters over the area regularly, and TPD's lake patrol and the state's Marine Police patrolled the area regularly.
Homicide investigators searched her house, including closets and attics. They monitored her financial records to see if there was any activity in her accounts and stayed in contact with family members in case they learned anything about her whereabouts. Her computers were analyzed to see if any activity indicated whether she had planned to go somewhere.
The letter Sellers wrote did not specify how she wanted to end her life, Baker said.
“She reported having severe anxiety problems in her writings,” he said.
Investigators spoke to her doctors and checked hospitals to see if she had checked herself in.
Sellers had no children. Family members and investigators have been in and out of the house numerous times in the past 18 months. Baker said investigators had been searching for a smell, but never detected any in the garage.
The Alabama Bureau of Investigation has assisted the homicide unit with the case since last year, Baker said. An agent met with the unit's investigators early on, and reviewed their file to determine if there was anything they might have missed.
“It's not unusual for us to consult with other agencies on our cases,” Baker said.
He said he would release more information when the autopsy results are returned from the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences.
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