Missing Kansas mom likely found dead in shipping container in West Memphis, authorities say

WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. — A Kansas wife and mother who vanished more than two weeks ago on a trip to Alabama for mental health assistance has been found dead in Arkansas, authorities said.

A body believed to belong to Marilane Carter, 36, of Overland Park, was found in her SUV, which was located Tuesday inside a shipping container off Interstate 55 in West Memphis, KARK in Little Rock reported. A credit card in Carter’s name was also found inside the vehicle.

Crittenden County Sheriff’s Department officials said Carter’s uncle, who had joined family members over the weekend to search for the missing woman, found the vehicle and body. According to KARK, the man was searching in the area of West Memphis, where Carter’s cellphone last pinged before her disappearance.

As he looked, he found three large shipping containers in a field off the interstate. Seeing an open door on one of the containers, he looked inside and found Carter’s dark gray 2011 GMC Acadia.

He found the remains of a woman inside the vehicle and called 911.

No foul play is suspected in Carter’s apparent death, KARK reported.

Carter’s family confirmed the discovery in a post on Find Marilane, a Facebook page devoted to the search for the missing mom.

“With a heavy heart we share this update with everyone. Today, Marilane’s vehicle was found in West Memphis, AR, in Crittenden County,” the post read. “A female was found deceased in the vehicle. Law enforcement says that foul play is not suspected.

“The family asks for your thoughts and prayers right now and in the upcoming days.”

Carter, whose young daughter turned 3 on Monday, was heading to Birmingham for treatment of an undisclosed issue. She also planned to visit with family, including a sister due to give birth soon.

Carter was last seen by her husband on the night of Aug. 1, when she left home for her trip to Alabama, ABC News reported. She was spotted the next morning in surveillance footage as she checked into, and out of, a Quality Inn in West Plains, Missouri.

Adam Carter, who serves as lead pastor of Leawood Baptist Church in Leawood, Kansas, told KMBC in Kansas City that his wife spent about three hours at the hotel before getting back in her Acadia. The couple were speaking on their cellphones when Marilane Carter’s cellphone apparently cut out.

Carter spoke to her mother, Marlene Mesler, of Birmingham, about 15 minutes later. Again, her phone cut out or died.

She had not been heard from since.

AL.com reported last week that Carter initially planned to fly to Birmingham but, at the last minute, decided to drive herself there.

“That helps give a view into her mindset,” Overland Park police Detective Blake Larsen said Friday in the first news conference held regarding Carter’s disappearance.

Watch Friday’s news conference below.

Posted by Overland Park Police Department on Friday, August 14, 2020

Larsen said cellphone data and credit card charges showed Carter stopped at a McDonald’s on her way through Missouri. On Aug. 2, the day she checked out of the hotel in West Plains, she fueled up her Acadia at a Shell station, where she went inside for some ice water.

That sighting was just before 5 p.m., according to Find Marilane. The Shell station is located in West Memphis, Arkansas, just west of the Mississippi River, Larsen said.

Carter’s cellphone last pinged around 8:02 p.m. Aug. 2 near the Arkansas weigh station on Interstate 55 going into Memphis. It was not immediately clear how far from that spot her uncle found the shipping container in which she died.

“Based on the fuel capacity and range of her 2011 GMC Acadia, she could possibly have traveled nearly 400 miles without refueling,” a post on the Facebook page said Monday night.

The post included a map showing a 400-mile radius around Memphis.

Police and Carter’s family had been searching that area of Interstate 55, which spanned the Mississippi River near Memphis. Law enforcement early on conducted an air search of a four-mile radius around where that last ping registered.

Despite law enforcement involvement, police and FBI agents had been relying on volunteer searchers to conduct water searches of the river, which Larsen said began on Thursday.

“At this time, there is no reason to believe that criminal activity is afoot,” Larsen said Friday. “This is not an active criminal investigation. We are simply trying to locate Marilane Carter and bring her back to her children, to her husband and to her parents. They’re all worried sick about her.”

Authorities had previously said that Carter had made some “concerning statements” to family members the night she vanished.

“She was seeking some mental health care and she didn’t want to go to any place in Kansas City, but she wanted to go to a place she was familiar with,” Adam Carter told KMBC.

Marilane Carter, a graduate of Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, had previously served as a hospital chaplain in the city. Her brother-in-law told reporters the family believed she had reached out to either the University of Alabama Birmingham Hospital or Grandview Medical Center to set up her treatment.

On the Facebook page dedicated to the search, Carter’s family wrote Monday night that there had still been no sign of her.

“So far, sonar data reviews are not showing any signs of Marilane or her vehicle in the MS River,” the post read. “However, it’s important to know that sonar reviews are not yet completed, and additional sonar teams are expected to arrive in the area soon to conduct more imaging and searching before we are able to rule out the possibility.

“Law enforcement is reviewing tower data dumps and investigating any new leads. Please call local law enforcement if you have any info, leads, or tips.”

The family had also been in touch with people able to coordinate crop dusters to conduct additional aerial searches for Carter.

Carter is survived by her husband, her three children and her extended family.