A Mobile Metro Jail inmate confessed to a 2008 murder during an interview with Mobile County Sheriff’s Office investigators last week and then led deputies straight to the victim’s remains over the weekend.
According to Capt. Paul Burch, Eldee George Henage, 46, told MCSO investigators that he strangled 19-year-old Nancy Laire Cowan to death in 2008 before burying her body in a shallow grave off Orbit Circle in Wilmer. Police say Henage lived in a camper in that area at the time of the murder.
“He’s been cooperative … took us out to the property Saturday, and two independent cadaver dogs alerted to a specific area where they were able to uncover the remains,” Burch said. “He was very specific about what she [was wearing] at the time, and everything he’s said has been consistent.”
According to MCSO, Cowan’s skeletal remains were buried about three feet below the ground. Because so much time has passed, he said the only way to determine the cause of death is with Henage’s confession.
Cowan’s identity was also determined based on Henage’s confession, though Burch did say some other information was obtained to support his claims from the area where her body was found. Investigators are still waiting on dental records and DNA testing to make a positive confirmation.
MCSO investigators have already acquired records from a dentist Cowan used before her disappearance and taken DNA samples from her family, who live out of state. Burch said the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences has been asked to fast track testing in the case.
Investigators say Cowan and Henage may have been acquaintances because they both lived in the Wilmer area but there’s no history of a significant relationship. Asked about the family’s reaction to the discovery, Burch said arrests in cold cases usually elicit mixed emotions.
“It’s sad, obviously, but they were also able to get answers they’ve not had for a very long time,” Burch said. “She was 19 years old when she was killed. It would be horrible for any family, you know, because there’s always that hope that your loved one is out there somewhere.”
According to public records, Henage has been in and out of jail in Mobile County for more than two decades.
He has been arrested at least 26 times since 1993 and has faced dozens of charges for domestic violence, assault and possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia.
Burch declined to say how investigators began to suspect Henage might have been connected to an 11-year-old murder while he serving time in Metro Jail for an unrelated arrest in early October. He now faces new charges for murder and abuse of a corpse due to Cowan’s improper burial.
Investigators with MCSO held a perp walk for local media showcasing Henage’s arrest on Nov. 18. He was taken from MCSO headquarters across the street to Metro Jail. It’s unclear at this point why he was taken to headquarters or whether the event was solely for the reporters’ benefit.
During the perp walk, Henage described hearing “voices” when asked why he’d killed Cowan. Burch said Henage has made other strange comments when speaking to MCSO investigators — giving the impression that his mental capacity might have been a concern for authorities during the investigation.
“[His mental state] has obviously has been part of the conversation but we’re satisfied that he was of sound mind,” Burch said. “We believe he knew what he was doing at the time he committed the murder and knew what he was doing when he came and talked with us.”
The Charley Project, a nonprofit organization that catalogs information about missing persons online, cited information from Cowan’s family that suggested she may have been pregnant at the time of her murder, but Lagniappe has been unable to confirm those claims. Burch said it’s something investigators are checking into.
If true, Henage could face an additional murder charge for the unborn child.
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