BERLIN -- A 32-year-old carpenter is facing charges that he killed his mother-in-law, whose disappearance in July touched off a massive search that came to a bizarre end when her body was discovered buried in a shed on her own chicken farm two weeks ago.
Suspect William Thomas "Billy" Warren was active in the search for Mildred Louise Williams, 55, and court documents show a confession to police finally led them to her grave.
Warren is being held in the Worcester County Jail in lieu of $500,000 bail. A preliminary hearing on homicide charges is scheduled Jan. 13. Police say the investigation is continuing, and they have not ruled out more arrests.
Warren has refused to be interviewed, as has his wife, Dawn, the victim's only child.
Williams was reported missing July 29 after her car, with the keys and a bag of groceries still inside, was discovered in the parking lot of a West Ocean City Food Lion grocery store.
In the months that followed, her brothers, sisters, in-laws and friends -- often joined by Warren -- put up hundreds of missing person posters in several cities, kept a vigil outside the grocery store, searched for Williams and even consulted a psychic to help them locate her.
According to a police report contained in court records, Warren admitted to the killing Dec. 12, and police, acting on his description of events, discovered Williams' body.
The report says Warren told police that on July 29, Williams went to his house on Carey Road in Berlin. The two got into a heated argument and he hit Williams in the head with a hammer, killing her.
Warren, according to the report, told police he first buried Williams near his home on Carey Road then, in October, dug up the remains and moved them to a shed on her Libertytown chicken farm.
An autopsy by the state medical examiner's office in Baltimore showed that Williams died from being struck with a blunt object, although she had sustained multiple injuries.
Several days after the body was found, police said, an underwater recovery team found a hammer in the Pocomoke River, a few miles from Williams' home.
The discovery of the body and the charges against Warren shocked the community.
"Knowing Billy as long as I have, I can't see him hurting anyone, let alone killing them," a friend since high school said the day after Warren was arrested. "He didn't have any more temper than anybody else would have. He's a nice, easygoing person."
Another family friend called Warren a hard worker who helped his father at the service station the family used to own before he took a job as a carpenter for an Ocean Pines home improvement firm.
"I've never known Billy to get in trouble for anything," she said.
Following a funeral in Berlin, Williams was buried in Riverside Cemetery in Libertytown Dec. 22.