When two Howard County detectives arrived Wednesday at Robert Arnold Jarrett's home on Claire Drive in Elkridge, all they had were an anonymous tip, a hunch of foul play and a new bit of cooperation in a missing person investigation that had been cold for more than two decades.
When they left later that evening, they had the remains of Jarrett's former wife, who had been missing since 1991, and enough evidence to charge Jarrett with her murder.
Despite the rapid turn-around in the case, neighbors who remembered Christine Jarrett and the police work that had occurred after her disappearance said they wondered what had taken so long.
"They said, 'They're coming to find Christine, and they're finally looking under the shed,' " said a man who lives across the street from the Jarrett home of his neighbors' reactions to the police forensic team that removed Christine Jarrett's remains from beneath a shed in the backyard within hours of the detectives conducting their search.
Neighbors felt "more anger than anything else" about the sudden influx of squad cars on their street, said the man, who declined to give his name, because they had suspected her body was on the property for years.
Police had long had suspicions of foul play, as well, they said.
But the 57-year-old Robert Jarrett — who was arrested Wednesday night in Prince Frederick on charges of first-degree and second-degree murder — had never allowed them to search his home or property, said Sherry Llewellyn, a police spokeswoman.
And, with few leads and little evidence, police could never obtain a search warrant, Llewellyn said.
And so the case went cold — for more than two decades.
But the course of the investigation shifted abruptly this week after police received an anonymous tip relating to the case.
Llewellyn said she could not say what the tip was. But regardless, it came at an opportune time.
This year, Det. Daniel Lenick and Special Investigator Nick DeCarlo, a cold-case investigator, had discovered that Jarrett was no longer in Elkridge with his current wife, who he'd married after receiving a divorce from Christine Jarrett in 1993.
Records show he was living in Prince Frederick in Calvert County, in the home of a woman who had received a divorce of her own in 2011.
Police had never spoken to Jarrett's current wife about Christine Jarrett's disappearance, so detectives contacted her on April 17. She gave them permission to search the home and the property, "specifically the shed location in the right rear part of the back yard," the charging documents said.
Permission finally in hand, Lenick and DeCarlo went to Claire Drive the next day to conduct the search.
"The detectives checked various areas around the house, including the shed," Llewellyn said. "It was old and had clearly been there a long time, even though a new shed had been built on the property. As they searched, they saw evidence of what could have been remains and called in a team to check it out."
They found the remains underneath the shed's floorboards and a concrete slab. They were confirmed to be those of Christine Jarrett by a medical examiner on Friday, though the cause of her death is still unknown and could take weeks to determine, police said.
Christine Jarrett was reported missing on Jan. 5, 1991. Robert Jarrett told police that she had walked away after an argument. She was 34 years old at the time, had been married for 16 years and was in a relationship turbulent enough that she had spoken of leaving home.
Police said at the time that she had kissed her two sons, then 5 and nearly 11, goodnight. They thought she had taken nearly $4,000 with her that had been withdrawn two weeks prior, as well as a credit card.
"She was never seen or heard from again," Llewellyn said. "Police suspected foul play but did not have evidence at the time to prove it."
Robert Jarrett was arrested Wednesday night when police stopped his vehicle in Calvert County. He is being held without bail at the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup.
Neighbors said they weren't surprised.
"The rumor at the time was that he killed her," said Barbara Keir, who was visiting her father in his Claire Drive home. "Everyone was convinced. It was the way that he acted — just out there. It didn't even matter that she was gone."
The Baltimore Sun contributed to this article.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun