Arrests made after body found in wooded area in Catawba County

CONOVER, N.C. — Detectives arrested two men on suspicion of murder after a decomposed body was found in December near Conover, the Catawba County Sheriff’s Office announced Thursday.

The case began as a death investigation on Dec. 9 and the medical examiner later ruled it a homicide.

In a release sent Thursday morning, the Catawba County Sheriff’s Office said that Juan Jesus Santellan, 31, has been arrested and charged with the murder of Luiz Enrique Rodriguez.

Santellan, originally from Hickory, is being held without bond and has his first court appearance at the Catawba County Courthouse Thursday.

Later Thursday afternoon, the sheriff’s office announced that a second person was taken into custody for a murder charge in connection with the killing. Angel Gustavo Gonzalez, 29, also originally from Hickory, is being held without bond, the sheriff’s office said.

Authorities haven’t released any information about what led up to the suspected killing.

The body was found by a man and his family in a wooded area near Lee Cline Road, just north of Conover, according to the sheriff’s office.

The victim was identified as 51-year-old Luiz Enrique Rodriguez by using fingerprint analysis.

The Catawba County Sheriff’s Office added that Rodriguez was also known as Gose Gutierrez.

Channel 9′s Dave Faherty learned from neighbors on Monday that investigators spent about nine hours searching the area over the weekend. Faherty saw authorities going door-to-door in the neighborhoods nearby.

“It was something that was shiny,” said Johnny Stewart, who found the body along with his family. “This is television stuff. You never think of this around the area here. I’ve been here 40 years and nothing ever like this.”

Deputies searched the hillside where a man’s body was found, about 30 yards from the road, off a dirt drive that is no longer in use.

Investigators said they do not know how long the person may have been there. An autopsy is scheduled for Thursday, which may provide more information on the cause of death.

“What was it all about, because you just don’t ever know,” said Matthew Godfrey, a resident of the area. “It’s a crazy world, it’s a crazy world.”

Anyone with information is asked to call investigators at 828-464-3112.

This is a developing story, check back at wsoctv.com for updates.

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