ATTICA – They found the farmer’s body buried under a pile of manure 3 feet deep.
His hands, according to friends, were tied behind him.
Friends, family and a police K-9 unit searched for hours Monday, looking for Douglas W. Mess, who was reported missing by one of his sons earlier that day after he failed to show up for work.
Among those searching was Mess’ wife of 30 years, Charlene, who saddled up her horse to look for him on their sprawling farm.
But after finding the body of the 52-year-old farmer and asking questions, state troopers arrested Charlene M. Mess, 48, that night and charged her with second-degree murder.
A police source said the Messes got into “a fight that got out of hand” but officials declined to comment on what that fight may have been about.
Investigators believe that Charlene Mess struck her husband with some kind of blunt instrument, killing him, during a fight at their farmhouse Sunday night, the source said. She then loaded the body into a skid steer to carry it to a manure and compost pile about 300 yards behind the farmhouse and barns, the police source said.
Troopers responded Monday to the Mess residence, at 1229 Exchange Street Road, following a report from the victim’s son, Douglas G. Mess, that his father was last seen at his home at 8 p.m. Sunday.
“We just started as a missing-person investigation, possibly medical-related,” State Police Capt. Steven A. Nigrelli said at a news conference Tuesday. “The father was last seen Sunday night. He has some medical ailments. … He left the residence without his medicine.”
State Police at Warsaw set up a search of the roughly 350- to 500-acre farm. The search team included more than 20 troopers and the State Police K-9 and aviation units, as well as family, friends, other farmers and volunteer firefighters.
Shortly before 7 p.m. Monday, two civilians found the body concealed in the 3-foot-deep pile of manure and compost, which measured roughly 14 by 12 feet.
Douglas Mess was pronounced dead at the scene by the Wyoming County coroner. An autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday by the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office. He was believed to have been dead before his body was covered with manure.
Asked whether there were any visible signs of how Mess had been killed, Nigrelli said, “It was tough to do an initial on-scene examination.”
Late Tuesday, Charlene Mess was being held without bail following her arraignment before Warsaw Village Justice William Blythe.
Stunned co-workers and friends described Mess as a big man, who stood about 6 feet tall, and several called him a “gentle giant.”
A dairy farmer and mechanic, Mess was the father of four sons, Douglas, Matthew, James and Michael, all of whom worked the farm together with Charlene Mess.
In addition, the victim had held down outside jobs. Douglas Mess and three of his sons, the younger Douglas, Michael and Matthew, were employed at Baskin Livestock of Batavia, which delivers cow feed to farms throughout New England. The other son, James, works in construction.
Tim Phillips, a Baskin truck driver, said Mess worked Sunday afternoon, repairing a truck that was bound for Maine with a load of cow feed.
Phillips and fellow workers said they were heartbroken over the killing. “Doug was a gifted mechanic and he would do anything for you no matter what time of day or night,” Phillips said.
Of Charlene Mess, Phillips said she was known as a person that you did not want to cross.
“She wasn’t very big, but she was built like a rocket, muscle-bound. She was the type of person who’d take a beating to give one,” Phillips said. “She was feisty.”
A relative of the murder suspect, who did not want to be identified because of the unfolding investigation, defended Charlene Mess, saying she was a devoted mother to her four sons and an animal lover, as well.
“She’s not the monster they’re making her out to be,” the relative told The Buffalo News.
The relative also said that Charlene Mess and her sister participated in the search for her husband, even saddling up horses and riding around the farm land.
The relative refused to discuss the Messes’ relationship.
“I really can’t talk about that because of the investigation,” the relative said.
Nigrelli said at the news conference that police will not comment on a possible motive or whether any admissions had been made.
But when asked whether police had investigated previous trouble at the Mess family’s farmhouse, Nigrelli replied:
“It’s a well-known family, for good reasons.”
The Mess’ dairy farm is on a back road in the rolling hills of Wyoming County and just a few miles away from Attica and Wyoming state correctional facilities.
One of the barns is painted with a sign that reads “Faith View Farm” with a picture of a cow. Under the cow in sweeping letters, it says: “The Mess Family.”
Before the family purchased their Exchange Street Road farm about five years ago, they had lived on rented farms, and the children, when growing up, attended Attica Central Schools.
“The sons and parents all worked together on their farm,” said Ann Taylor, who operates a dairy farm next door to the Mess farm.
She said she was aware that the husband and wife were not getting along, but added that it is not uncommon for people married for 30 years to hit rough patches.
Attica town records show that the Mess family’s home, barn and land were assessed at $220,000 last year. The property is classified as a dairy farm, and other records show that Charlene Mess has received wool subsidies from the government.
Following a State Police news release about the killing, troopers closed Exchange Street Road with 5-foot-high signs and barricades.
The home and farm are on the east side of Exchange Street Road, south of Lindsey Road.
Police tape surrounded the west side of the home and parts of the back of the property Tuesday morning. Nearly 10 vehicles, including five marked police vehicles, were at the scene.
One of the sons stopped by the farm Tuesday afternoon to pick up a few belongings.
“I’ve been upset,” he said as he left with his girlfriend.
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