Pike County murder investigation revealing new details

Pike County Sheriff Office says Bernice Hayslip body was in the well for at least a year before surfacing, then was moved to other locations. (WSYX/WTTE)

The Pike County Sheriff said Wednesday he expected to make additional arrests in the case of 77-year old Bernice Hayslip.

Highland county investigators contacted the Pike County Sheriff's office after receiving a tip about a possible missing person during a tip they received during a traffic stop.

Investigators said Hayslip came from Adams to Pike County in the summer of 2016 to visit family.

Investigators think Hayslip was murdered, and her body hidden in at least three Pike County locations.

It started with a well.

"We believe that she was placed in a barrel, then inside a well. We had some heavy rain and flooding, and believe once that well filled with water, she came up out of that well" said Pike County Sheriff's Deputy William Stansberry.

Stansberry said the body was in the well for at least a year before surfacing, then was moved to other locations.

Last Wednesday, cadaver dogs hit on a scent in a back yard fire pit of a West Pike County property.

Forensics investigators are now testing bone fragments collected to determine if they're Hayslip's.

The sheriff said Branden Friend was arrested, on charges of tampering with evidence, and abuse of a corpse connected to last week's discovery.

"He was the one that burned the barrel in the pit, and had prior knowledge of what was in the barrel" Stansberry added.

The sheriff expected to make at least two additional arrests on similar charges.

The property where the bone fragments were discovered is owned by Johnny Kerns.

Now, Kerns, and Hayslip's daughter, 44-year old Tracy Sowards are key players in the case.

"Tracy Sowards and Johnny Kerns are murder suspects" Stansberry added.

Sowards and Kerns are already locked up on unrelated charges.

The sheriff believed the case was motivated by financial gain.

He said while Hayslip vanished, her pension and social security checks continued to be collected.

Her credit cards were also used according to court documents.

A preliminary trial for Sowards is December 4th.

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