Husband arrested in 1978 disappearance of California woman; man being held in Nebraska jail

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OROVILLE, California — Nearly 40 years after a woman disappeared from a small Northern California town, her husband has been arrested on suspicion of killing her and disposing of the body.

Marvin Gail Owens, 62, was taken into custody in Keith County, Nebraska, on a warrant issued by officials in California. Owen's wife, Deborah, was last seen Nov. 19, 1978, in Oroville. Two days later, Owens reported his wife missing. The mother of two hasn't been seen since.

Evidence has been recovered from the couple's Oroville home, said Butte County Sheriff's Sgt. Jason Hail, who declined to elaborate. He said that investigators also conducted fresh interviews with the couple's daughters, who were raised by Owens and are now adults.

"It was important for us to talk to them about things told to them as they grew up about their mom," Hail said. "That's certainly a factor in all of this."

Owens remained in Lincoln County Jail on Friday with bail set at $1 million. Butte County District Attorney Michael Ramsey said Owens appeared in a Nebraska courtroom Friday, and he did not challenge his extradition to California, where he will face the murder charge. Butte County officials expect to bring Owens to California next week, Ramsey said, noting the long investigation. "It's been a slow slog over the decades," he said.

Ramsey said investigators long suspected Owens was responsible for his wife's disappearance, but not until recently were they able to issue an arrest warrant for him. DNA evidence is not part of the evidence, said Ramsey, who declined to elaborate.

He said investigators are also looking at connections between associates of Owens and the disappearance of another woman, Essie Margarette Hiett, who vanished in the same year. Hiett was last seen leaving an Oroville cardroom early in the morning of Feb. 13, 1978, where she worked as a waitress and bartender. Officials said Hiett's body has never been found.

Ramsey said Owens will be assigned an attorney to represent him on the murder charge when he arrives in California.


Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com

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