Varnell pleaded not guilty to murder and a second felony for allegedly stealing a gun after killing his neighbor. Varnell's case will transfer to Howell County.
Varnell, 47, is accused of killing his rural Alton neighbor, Narda "Addee" Pranke, 51, by hitting her in the head with a rock at her home site in the Woods and Waters subdivision, about six miles east of Alton in late February.
Varnell told investigators he returned to the 10-acre site a few days later and cut Pranke's body into pieces to hide the crime.
Varnell is charged with first-degree murder, a Class A felony, and felony theft of 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, "The Catwoman," because she nagged him, causing him to lose his temper.
Just as he did at his April 25 hearing, Varnell clutched a thick U.S. Priority Mail envelope to his chest during the entire 20 minutes he was in court May 7. He chatted frequently with special public defender Linda McKinney of Gainesville before and after his brief hearing with Oregon County Associate Circuit Court Judge Harvey Allen.
Allen said Prosecutor Fred O'Neill, who was not present, agreed moving the case to Howell County was warranted. Judge David Paul Evans will take over the case there on June 18.
None of Varnell's family or others were present at the hearing, nor were any of Pranke's, although former Alton Police Chief Kevin Jotz was in the audience. Pranke considered Jotz a friend and asked him several times for help.
In letters to Jotz last summer and fall, Pranke said she feared several of her neighbors who she suspected of stealing her mail and personal belongings and gluing shut her mailbox.
Pranke, who moved to the area from Arizona in July 2010 with 16 feral cats, lived alone in tents on her property she bought with the future intention of building herself a yurt.
Pranke's four children, all of whom live in Arizona, have set up an email account -- firstname.lastname@example.org -- where they hope to hear from those who knew their mother.
Varnell remains in Oregon County Jail on $100,000 bond.