Search for missing 77-year-old woman intensifies after tip of possible foul play

On Tuesday, search warrants were on Hackleshin Road and in the 2300 block of Lapperell Road. (FOX19 NOW)
On Tuesday, search warrants were on Hackleshin Road and in the 2300 block of Lapperell Road. (FOX19 NOW)

PIKE COUNTY, OH (FOX19) - The case of a missing 77-year-old Adams County woman is now a murder investigation, authorities announced Tuesday.

Bernice Hayslip has not been seen or heard from since August 2016, Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader said.

The Pike's County Sheriff's Office believes she may have been the victim of foul play after receiving a tip from Highland County authorities. Hayslip's daughter, Tracy Sowards, 44, has been named a person of interest in the investigation.

Another unidentified person was taken into custody Monday. That person's information led investigators to two locations in Western Pike County.

"I can tell you that in the interviews with the deputies, that particular person did incriminate himself as being part of the act that could have caused harm or grave harm to Bernice Hayslip," Reader said.

Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk confirmed search warrants were executed for Johnny Kerns and Tracy Sowards on Hackleshin Road and in the 2300 block of Lapperell Road.

Manchester cadaver dogs alerted their handlers to a site containing an old burn pile on Apparel Road, signaling human remains are possibly there now or may have been in the past, the sheriff said. Reader summoned Pike County's coroner to the scene.

Sowards was arrested on an outstanding warrant and then questioned in the case, according to the sheriff.

Kerns' connection to the case remains unclear.

Investigators have traced Hayslip's last known location to an Adams County medical care facility, authorities said.

After Hayslip was released, she lived with family in Peebles before her mysterious disappearance.

The last records the medical facility has on file indicate an anonymous caller reported Hayslip dead.

"It was reported to one of those healthcare companies that she had been deceased," said Deputy William Stansberry. "However, there was no death certificate, there's never been any application for burial."

As authorities continue to investigate this as a murder, they said they have not ruled out the possibility that Hayslip is still alive. Anyone with information on the case or her whereabouts is asked to call the Pike County Sheriff's Office: 1-740-947-2111.

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