ELKHART COUNTY – An arrest has been made in the murder of an Elkhart County tattoo artist.
On September 10, 2012, 44-year-old Mark Miller of Elkhart was reported missing by his sister, Dawn.
County police launched an investigation and ten days later found Miller’s lifeless body in a 55-gallon barrel in the St. Joseph River near Six Span Bridge along County Road 17.
An autopsy showed Miller died of a gunshot wound.
During their initial investigation, police learned that Miller owned and operated a tattoo business on the southeast side of Elkhart and was last seen around 11 p.m. on September 7.
Police say Miller’s business partner, 35-year-old Todd Stewart of Bristol, originally told detectives he had been working with Miller on the night of September 7 but left the shop between 11 p.m. and midnight when Miller was on his cellphone. Stewart provided more information regarding what car he was driving, what he did, where he was located and other facts and circumstances of his activities that night.
As the investigation progressed, several other people told police they had seen Stewart driving a red Dodge pickup truck on September 7, which had been at the tattoo shop on the evening Miller disappeared.
One witness specifically remembered having to remove an empty 55-gallon barrel from the bed of the truck before borrowing it on the evening of the 7th. That same witness said he borrowed the truck again on the morning of September 8 from Stewart’s home and found damage to the truck. The bed of the truck appeared to have been cleaned, and there was a new “barrel cart” in the back of the truck but no 55-gallon barrel.
Investigators used detailed cellphone records of Stewart to determine the geographic locations of the cellular towers which relayed cell service to Stewart’s phone on the night of September 7-8. Investigators also got a video surveillance recording from the nearby Meijer store near Goshen about a mile from the tattoo shop. The video shows Stewart at Meijer around 1:45 a.m. buying several items, including a dolly hand truck.
While comparing those records with Stewart’s original statement to police, investigators found Stewart’s reported whereabouts and activities on that night were inconsistent with those records.
Detectives interviewed a business associate of both Stewart and Miller, who said he was also at the tattoo shop the night of September 7 when he personally saw Stewart shoot Miller with a silver and black handgun outside the back door of the business around 11:20 p.m.
The business associate admitted he helped Stewart load a barrel containing Miller’s dead body into the back of Stewart’s truck.
The sheriff’s department sent its findings to the Elkhart County prosecutor’s office, which on Wednesday formally charged Stewart with Miller’s murder.
Stewart was taken into custody Wednesday afternoon, and an initial hearing is set for Thursday morning in Elkhart Circuit Court.
Stewart faces up to 65 years in prison for the crime.
Stewart has a criminal history that includes three battery arrests and contempt of court, dating from 2007 back to 2000.