Friends of a rural Alton woman who was bludgeoned and cut into pieces, allegedly by a neighbor in late February, say the woman begged local law enforcement for help.
"She kept reaching out, and nobody would help her," according to an Alton resident who asked to remain anonymous, fearing repercussion within the small community.
The victim, Narda "Addee" Pranke, lived alone in a tent on 10 acres without running water or electricity. Authorities with the Oregon County Sheriff's Department and Missouri State Highway Patrol discovered Pranke's dismembered body February 29 in and near a neighbor's shed about a half-mile from Pranke's property.
Oregon County Sheriff George Underwood said Monday, March 5, Pranke never filed an official complaint with his department, although she recently spoke to deputies about mailbox vandalism and a neighbor who cut a tree near Pranke's land.
Guy Varnell, 47, of County Road 204 is in the Oregon County Jail on $1 million bond, after allegedly confessing to investigators that he killed Pranke by hitting her in the head several times with a rock and then cutting apart her body to hide the crime. Varnell is charged with first-degree murder, a Class A felony.
Varnell was arraigned by Judge Harvey Allen in Oregon County Circuit Court on March 7. Results were unavailable at press time.
Underwood was notified Feb. 29 of Pranke's murder or "pending murder" by an unidentified man who said Varnell told him he killed his neighbor, "the Cat Woman," later identified Pranke.
Reports indicate authorities went to Pranke's County Road 204 property about six miles east of Alton, but could not find her body. Authorities then learned from the anonymous tipster that Varnell said the body was in a shed on Varnell's property.
Sheriff's deputies continued the search, and found plastic bags of Pranke's severed hands and feet and clothing in a shed in a remote area. Deputies then found Pranke's torso in a brushy area on the property.
Deputies and troopers located Varnell and took him to the sheriff's department, where Varnell allegedly admitting killing Pranke on Feb. 25 or 26.
Varnell said he left Pranke's body on the ground for several days before returning to dispose of the corpse.
Varnell also told investigators he went to Pranke's property a few days later and stole a Ruger Mark 2 pistol while searching through her belongings. Varnell led officers to a wooded area near his home where he had hidden the gun.
Underwood said the only contact his office had with Varnell was once in about 2004 when Chief Deputy Eric King cited Varnell for a traffic or misdemeanor drug violation.
Pranke lived in the wild without running water or electricity, Underwood said.
"She had a couple of tents out there and some pavilions," Underwood said, adding that Pranke kept to herself. "She was a pretty private person. She lived a crude life out there."
A mile-and-a-half after County Road 204 ends and turns into a private drive that is not much more than a logging road, Pranke camped in her tent during warm weather, or slept in the back of her pickup truck when it was cold. She filled water jugs in town, and relied on friends for a shower. Mail was delivered to a cluster of rural mailboxes at the end of Road 204, about a mile from Highway 160 and east of Many Springs.
According to records, Pranke bought the 10-acre plot in Woods and Waters Subdivision in July 2010. Friends said Pranke moved from a Phoenix, Ariz., suburb to live off the land, and intended to build herself a yurt -- a domed, wood-framed structure covered in cloth.
Pranke bought canvas for the yurt, but it mildewed during the rainy spring season last year. By selling her artwork at an Arizona shop, Pranke was saving money for her project, friends said.
"She sounds like a vagrant, but she wasn't like that," a friend said. "She was desperate to get a foothold here, and did odd jobs for money."
Another said, "She was a good-looking lady, petite, physically fit and articulate."
Pranke brought 16 feral cats with her from Arizona because she felt it was her duty to care for them, the friend said.
Pleas for help
Last summer, Pranke began complaining she had trouble with some neighbors who seemed to want to run her off her land.
Pranke told friends, including then-Alton Police Chief Kevin Jotz, that she put a padlock on her mailbox to keep her neighbors from stealing her artwork-sale checks.
The vandals then put glue on the lock to torment Pranke, Jotz said.
When Pranke could not get help from the Oregon County Sheriff's Department, she began writing to Jotz at Alton City Hall, Jotz said.
Jotz, who was fired in February, in part, for not getting along with the sheriff's department, said Pranke was pleading for help.
"She came to me for help," Jotz said. "Nobody would help her with her stolen mail."
Underwood said Pranke had informally complained about the mailbox incident, although her mailbox was not the only target. Underwood and Chief Deputy King tried to mount a camera near the site, but could not find a suitable spot, Underwood said.
King said Pranke talked to him several times about other vandalism, although she mostly wanted only to talk and did not file a formal complaint.
Underwood said Pranke and Varnell were friends, and that her death was a result of an argument that got out of hand. The last time Pranke spoke to deputies was Feb. 24. She did not fill out a complaint form, he said.
In letters to Jotz, Pranke said Varnell was always "very, very nice, polite and respectful to me at all times. I can't see him being a big player in all this."
Pranke named others in her letter who she feared could someday kill her, and even told Jotz where she kept her will, in case she was murdered.
In her letters, Pranke reveals how she planned for the past 15 years for a life of peace and quiet, which was "bulldozed" by neighbors who disliked her.
Pranke told Jotz she wrote to King about a neighbor who she feared could burn her tents, break her belongings or hurt her cats. After having items stolen or vandalized, Pranke began burying "trip lines" in leaf piles to alert her to trespassers.
"Sort of ridiculous, but at least I'll know if someone's been here, and to what extent," Pranke wrote. "They are completely harmless and only used when I am not here."
Pranke thanked Jotz for his time, saying she had felt dismal for so long, and now felt some relief. She also questioned whether she was simply paranoid.
"Please, if you can, note in your paperwork that I do fear more damage to my property and animals," Pranke wrote to Jotz. "If I do take a bullet in the back, who would know? Would my animals starve to death before anyone found them in need?"
Underwood said Pranke's cats had food and water as of March 2 and were still on the property.
"She was a really nice lady, and she came to me for help. Now she's dead," Jotz said. "I'm so devastated, I can't believe this is happening."
Also in August 2011, Pranke wrote to Jotz that she waited for seven months for the sheriff's department to file harassment charges against three neighbors and that she tried at least a dozen times to contact King, although no charges were filed.
Jotz said he was told by Alton officials and Underwood to not intervene with county business.
Two weeks before Panke's death, Underwood revoked Jotz's commission as an Oregon County reserve deputy.
Underwood said he would not have told Jotz to stay out of county business, adding that Jotz is merely "slinging mud" in an election year.
Jotz and Underwood filed Feb. 28 as sheriff candidates on the November ballot.
"He's on a witch hunt," Underwood said of Jotz's allegations. "The man should run on his own merits."
Underwood said March 1 that he and four other officers had been up for 30 hours investigating the case.
Other charges against Varnell are pending, including a possible felony weapons charge.
Thayer Go Green Festival organizers said plans are being discussed to create a memorial garden for Pranke.