Man admits to killing woman, dumping body in well; body recovered

Published: May. 3, 2021 at 1:53 PM EDT
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JACKSON COUNTY/KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - A missing person’s case is now a homicide investigation, according to a joint investigation by the Jackson County and Kanawha County Sheriff’s Offices.

Law enforcement announced Monday during a joint press conference that Michael Wayne Smith, 41, has been charged with murder after admitting to killing Cheyenne Johnson and dumping her body in a well. Just after 5 p.m., investigators said Johnson’s body had been located. Kanawha Sheriff’s deputies say it was identified through tattoos as belonging to Johnson. Additional confirmation will be conducted by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

According to sheriff’s deputies, a missing person’s report was filed in Jackson County last week.

The investigation led deputies to Sissonville, and the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office was informed.

Overnight, officials say they received a tip from someone who said they overheard others talking about the murder of ‘sunshine’, which was Johnson’s nickname.

According to the criminal complaint, the person told deputies during the conversation she overheard the group say Johnson was taken to a farm where her throat was slit and she was buried.

Agencies then traveled to Britton Ridge Road in Charleston where they interviewed Michael Smith and the property owner.

Initially when asked if the property owner knew Johnson, she told deputies she did not. However, she later changed her answer and agreed to take detectives to ‘Sunshine’s’ body. Deputies say she took them to a well located several hundred yards away from the home and told them Michael Smith had ‘taken care of her.’

Officials say Michael Smith admitted to shooting Johnson in the back of the head and dumping her body in the deep water well. Smith told deputies he then drove to Jackson County where he got rid of the gun and other evidence.

Smith is being transported to the South Central Regional Jail.

The Kanawha County Emergency Management Office, United Diving, Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner were all involved in retrieving the body from the well.

Earlier Monday, agencies confirmed that human remains had been found inside of the well using an underwater camera.

“We have confirmed that there is a body in the well. Of course we can not tell who that body is. For all the circumstantial evidence that we have at this time, it is Ms. Johnson.”

Johnson was last seen Thursday, April 29 near Cottageville, according to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.

According to deputies, Smith had just been released from jail on April 15 and was on parole.

While at Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office headquarters, Smith provided a recorded statement where he said Johnson stole the property owner’s car Thursday evening from the home along Britton Ridge Road. He told deputies a confrontation happened Friday when Johnson returned with the vehicle.

According to Smith’s statement, when Johnson was asked to leave, the argument escalated and Johnson pulled out a knife. Smith said he repeatedly told Johnson to stop and even hit and pushed Johnson in an attempt to get the knife away from her. Smith said he then grabbed a .308 caliber rifle from his vehicle and shot Johnson in the head once.

Smith also told deputies he took Johnson’s body to the well and drove the firearm, knife, one of her shoes, cigarettes and a lighter to the Ripley area of Jackson County.

This is a developing story.

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