The broken window on Dawn Ward’s trailer was the family’s first warning sign. Inside the trailer, Ward, 40, and her daughter Taylor Carroll, 14, were nowhere to be found. It would be another three days until police found the pair dead at the bottom of a well.
Ward and Carroll went missing from their Williamston, North Carolina home on November 28. The disappearance was unusual for the pair, who lived next door to Ward’s mother. The close-knit family quickly filed a missing persons report and rallied the county to hunt for the missing mother and child. By the end of the week, the search revealed the worst: someone had killed the pair and hidden them in 30 feet of water at the bottom of a rural well.
But while most of the victims’ family grieves, two former relatives may have been behind the mother and daughter’s murder, police say.
Two days after Ward and Carroll were discovered dead, police in another state picked up the case. 800 miles away, police in Meridian, Mississippi arrested two suspects in their case: Ward’s estranged husband Jeffrey Ward and his brother Jerrett. The brothers, ages 25 and 24, appeared to have fled their home state of North Carolina before or around the time the bodies were discovered. Jeffrey is being held without bond on two counts of murder, while his brother Jerrett is being held on a $1 million bond for two counts of accessory after the fact.
Jeffrey Ward has an extensive criminal history, records show. At the time of his arrest, he was on parole for a slew of offenses, including two counts each of larceny and breaking and entering. His brother Jarrett lived on the same street Williamston, North Carolina as the well where police recovered Ward and Carroll’s bodies, records show.
Police have yet to release any motive for the slaying.
Dawn and Jeffrey Ward had been separated for years, with Dawn using her maiden name Boswell on her social media accounts. Court records obtained by North Carolina’s WITN indicate that she obtained a restraining order against Jeffrey in 2014 but did not renew it after its 2015 expiration.
Instead, Facebook posts revealed a woman focused on the remaining members of her family. She celebrated the birth of her grandson last year, by her son. She cared for her mother and tended horses on their property. And she frequently posted pictures of her daughter Taylor Carroll, with whom she bore a striking resemblance.
On the same day as their alleged killers’ arrests, Ward and Carroll’s loved ones gathered for an impromptu memorial service.
"We spent a lot of time over at my grandmother's house,” Ward’s cousin Kelly Connors recalled at the service. “I just remember playing with her and have so many fond memories and then we both became moms and she's just an amazing mother. It's hard that she's got a son left behind in this and my heart just aches for that as a mom but we just have a lot of great memories.”
Carroll’s friends remembered her as a kind, artistic girl full of promise. Her school cancelled classes on Friday to help students process the loss of their classmate.
“I love you so much Taylor,” a friend posted on Facebook. “You didn't deserve none of this. I don't understand what got you involved in any of this. I will always love you.”