Husband makes court appearance in missing-woman murder case

Robert Jarrett shuffled over to the red plastic chair and sat down, then used both of his shackled hands to slide on a pair of glasses.

It was the 57-year-old's first court appearance after his arrest Wednesday night on charges that he killed his wife, Christine Ann Jarrett, who had gone missing more than 20 years ago. Little insight into the case was offered at the brief hearing Friday in Howard County District Court.

Jarrett, who said he works as a steamfitter, did not have an attorney, and a prosecutor asked only that Judge Pamila J. Brown reaffirm his no-bail status, saying the severity of the charges makes him a flight risk.

Asked if he had anything to offer, Jarrett said, "Nothing, your honor."

Police said they found what are believed to be Christine Jarrett's remains under floorboards and concrete Wednesday in a shed behind the family's Elkridge home. The medical examiner's office confirmed the identity of the remains Friday.

Family and friends said that they long suspected Robert Jarrett in the disappearance of his wife in January 1991. At the time, police said she had kissed her young sons good night and left on foot, never to be heard from again. The couple had been having marital problems, but some doubted that she would abandon her children.

In 1998, she was legally declared dead. Documents from those proceedings include a letter from a close friend and neighbor, Marcia Neidhardt, who said she couldn't understand Christine Jarrett's devotion as a wife because her husband physically and verbally abused her. Another close friend, then living in North Carolina, said Robert Jarrett had called her after his wife's disappearance and said that after a "bad fight" she had left while he was asleep.

Sherry Llewellyn, a spokeswoman for Howard County police, said investigators also suspected the husband. But he did not consent to a search of the shed, and police lacked probable cause to obtain a search warrant, she said.

Christine Jarrett's niece, Karen Hoke, told The Baltimore Sun that Jarrett had poured fresh concrete in the shed just two weeks after his wife's disappearance. The Jarretts' next-door neighbor, Sandra Fryer, said Jarrett often became angry when children got near the structure.

"Everybody that I know has mentioned that shed for the last 20 years," Hoke said. "I'm not a policeman, but if your spouse turns up missing and you're all of a sudden laying concrete in the dead of winter, some kind of flags should've went up."

Jarrett remarried, but in December moved out of the house and began living in Prince Frederick in Calvert County. Police approached his estranged wife about searching the property, and she gave her consent.

The remains were found under a concrete slab, along with some personal items belonging to Christine Jarrett, police said.

"This case was never placed on a shelf or forgotten. The moment we had an opportunity to get permission to access that property, we took it," Llewellyn said in an email.

It is not clear if police obtained additional evidence to charge Jarrett with the killing. The cause of death remains unknown pending the medical examiner's report, and charging documents said only that he had concealed the body for 21 years.

At his bail review hearing, Jarrett said he was working to obtain representation through the public defender's office. Asked if he was employed, he said, "I was, until I was incarcerated."

Jarrett said he had worked since 1989 as a steamfitter for a mechanical contractor in Prince George's County. He also said he was on probation for a drunken-driving arrest last year.

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