Varnell, 47, is accused of killing his neighbor, Narda "Addee" Pranke, 51, on February 25 or 26 by hitting her in the head with a rock at her rural Alton home site, and then cutting her body into pieces. Besides the first-degree murder charge, Oregon County Prosecutor Fred O'Neill added a felony charge of stealing a firearm.
Probable cause reports indicate Varnell admitted to going back to Pranke's property and taking a gun after killing her. He also allegedly told authorities he killed Pranke because she nagged him, causing him to lose his temper.
Unlike his first court appearance, when he seemed disoriented and had a full beard and long hair, Varnell was clean-shaven and acted relaxed April 25. He held a thick envelope and was in court with public defender Linda McKinney of Gainesville.
Varnell smiled and nodded to his parents and another family member as he was escorted from the courtroom after confirming to Judge Harvey Allen that he understood the process of waiving his right to a hearing.
On behalf of her three siblings, Pranke's oldest daughter, Jamie Kelly, of Phoenix, Ariz., attended the hearing, as did several of Pranke's friends from Oregon County, including former Alton Police Chief Kevin Jotz.
In a previous interview, Jotz said the Oregon County Sheriff's Department ignored Pranke's pleas for help regarding her neighbors. In letters to Jotz, Pranke said she feared someone would shoot her and no one would know. In her last letter, Pranke told Jotz where she kept her will.
Oregon County Sheriff George Underwood denied Jotz's allegations, saying that Pranke had only contacted his office a few times and would not fill out a complaint form.
Pranke moved from Buckeye, Ariz., to a 10-acre plot in a subdivision about six miles east of Alton in July 2010, where she planned to build a yurt, a cloth-covered domed home for herself.
Pranke has three other children, all of whom live in Arizona. Kelly said she and her siblings were trying to locate Pranke when they learned of her murder.
"I will never understand; I will never by OK with it," Kelly said.
Kelly said Pranke was living the life she had always dreamed by living without electricity and enjoying nature. Pranke loved art, her children, animals and the world.
Kelly said that before buying property near Alton, Pranke lived off the grid in Arizona, where it was much hotter and without lush greenery.
"I admired her for that," Kelly said of her mother's rustic lifestyle. "She was being true to her heart and who she was."
Pranke brought 16 feral cats with her from Arizona, earning her the nickname "Catwoman." Authorities said the cats are being cared for and that Pranke's belongings may be sold to pay debts.
Pranke's children have set up an email account -- email@example.com -- where they hope to hear from those who knew their mother.
See next week's South Missourian News for a full story.