A midwife’s body was found wrapped in a duvet in a shallow grave with masking tape around her eyes and face, a court has heard.
Samantha Eastwood’s family made emotional appeals for information on her whereabouts amid a huge search operation that ended on Saturday eight days after she disappeared in a rural area of Staffordshire.
Michael Stirling, 32, has been charged with murdering the “happy and bubbly” 28-year-old and appeared at Stafford Crown Court on Wednesday.
Mr Stirling is the brother-in-law of Ms Eastwood’s former fiancé, John Peake. The pair’s engagement was broken off earlier this year and she was single and living alone.
Appearing from HMP Dovecote via video link, he spoke only to confirm his name, age and nationality and that he understood the proceedings.
Mr Stirling, of Gratton Road in Stoke-on-Trent, is accused of murdering Ms Eastwood between 26 July and 5 August at Baddeley Green. Her body was discovered around 7 miles away in a rural area near Caverswall.
Jonas Hankin QC, prosecuting, told the court the ongoing investigation into the midwife’s death was “complex” and meant a provisional trial date in February 2019 was unlikely to remain in place.
A preliminary post-mortem examination did not reveal any gunshot, stab or penetrating wounds, and further analysis of neck bones was due to be carried out, Judge Michael Challinor QC was told.
CCTV footage, telephone evidence and automatic number plate recognition data are also set to form part of the evidence at trial.
Defence barrister Samina Rashid made no application for bail and Mr Stirling was not required to enter any plea.
He was remanded in custody to appear at Northampton Crown Court for a plea hearing on 5 October.
Two other men, aged 28 and 60, were arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender and remain on conditional police bail while enquiries continue.
Ms Eastwood’s friends, former colleagues and members of the public have been leaving flowers and tributes outside her home.
In a statement issued through Staffordshire Police, her family said: “We would like to say thank you to all the people who followed Samantha’s story and tried their best to help.”
Police launched an appeal for information after Ms Eastwood went missing on 27 July, when she was last seen leaving work at Royal Stoke Hospital at 7.45am.
The alarm was raised by colleagues when she failed to show up for her shift later the same day.
Her sister, Gemma Eastwood, had made a tearful appeal for help in tracing the “happy, bubbly and smiley woman” on Friday, saying: “We miss you very much, we need you home where you belong.
“If she’s out there, or anyone knows where she is, please get in touch. Get her home.”
Additional reporting by PA