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Mitchell County Deputies Recover Body of Missing Avery County Man

By Tim Gardner

The body of an Avery County man who has been missing since October 6 was recovered in adjoining Mitchell County fifteen days later (October 21). 

Michael Shawn Hartley’s deceased body was discovered in Beaver Creek, just below the Town of Spruce Pine watershed and only a few miles from where Hartley was raised in Southern Avery County.

Hartley was 48 years old.

In an interview , Mitchell County Chief Deputy Josh Sparks said that medical reports performed on Hartley’s body show that no foul play was involved in his death and also that there was no trauma or wounds to his body.

Sparks added that an autopsy and drug toxicology report will be done to determine Hartley’s cause of death. Sparks said it may be six-to-eight weeks before results of the entire medical report-autopsy are available.

“Hartley had come to Spruce Pine to dig ginseng with a male friend,” Sparks said. “It started to rain, and Hartley and his friend got separated and his friend went home. But Hartley continued walking through the area.”

Sparks said that on October 14 or 15, he received a call from Avery County Chief Deputy Lee Buchanan that a missing person’s report had been filed by Hartley’s family members.  Since he was known to have last been in Mitchell County, the Mitchell County Sheriff’s Department got a court order from a Superior Court Judge required to begin checking Hartley’s cell phone records to help locate him.  

Sparks explained the procedure: “It was a time-consuming process of several days to get the court order and obtain the phone records. Those phone records allowed our department to map out where Hartley had been on October 6 and the last place where his phone had been active.”

On October 21, Sparks and another deputy found Hartley’s body in the creek while searching the watershed area.  It was removed and sent to Winston Salem, NC Baptist Hospital where the medical examination was performed.