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Did a Missing Woman’s Ex Fake Her Texts to Trick Her Family into Thinking She Was Alive?

People logo People 5/22/2020 Jeff Truesdell
a woman smiling for the camera: Monica Moynan © Holly Springs Police Department Monica Moynan

Monica Moynan sometimes went weeks without seeing or speaking on the phone to her mom, Melanie Tucker, who lived an hour away. But texts kept them in frequent touch.

In April 2019, the 22-year-old single mom in Holly Springs, North Carolina, was raising two girls, ages 8 months and 3 years, and working as a waitress while starting a home-based business making and selling immune-boosting elderberry syrup. Her texts kept up a steady patter -- discussing birthday plans, or her worry that a lost cat would upset her oldest daughter -- that felt utterly familiar.

But as Tucker kept placing unanswered calls and trying to arrange get-togethers, it started to seem like Moynan was avoiding her. From early April to late July 2019, the hundreds of texts Tucker received in response kept putting her off. "There was always an excuse," she tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. She grew concerned, but chocked it up to her daughter's busy life.

"Who would think it's not your daughter contacting you from her own phone?" she says.

Police now say it wasn't.

To read more about what happened to Monica Moynan, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday.

In a sinister twist to a still-unfolding mystery, the girls' father and Moynan's ex-boyfriend, Brian Sluss, 44, allegedly admitted to impersonating her with those messages, according to search warrants, but not to the reason police believe he did it: to hide his alleged murder of Moynan on April 7.

a group of young children sitting next to a child: Monica Moynan with daughters Nova, left, and Kayleigh © Provided by People Monica Moynan with daughters Nova, left, and Kayleigh

More than a year later, authorities continue to search for the victim's body. Sluss has since been arrested on a charge of murder. His ex-wife, Jarlyn Sluss, was also arrested on charges that include obstructing justice. Neither has entered a plea and both are being held without bond.

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Their pending prosecution gives Moynan's family hope for answers. Tucker finally helped to expose the hoax, and alerted police to her fears on July 23, after a conversation with the manager of her daughter's apartment, who told Tucker that she had not seen the young woman since late March.

"This is a critical time now Brian and we know that you have Monis phone," Tucker frantically texted that day to Moynan's number. "No one has seen her ... and she has been reported as a missing person. I need you to at least care enough to call me so we can just talk!"

By then Sluss had turned off the phone, she claims.

a man and woman posing for the camera: City-County Bureau of Identification Brian Sluss, at left, and Jarlyn Sluss © Provided by People City-County Bureau of Identification Brian Sluss, at left, and Jarlyn Sluss

In the texts Sluss admitted to sending to Moynan's family over those months, "he talked like Monica," says Tucker. "He sounded like Monica. It was elaborate. Great detail. We're talking hour-long text conversations."

In the weeks after police now say she was killed, Moynan had been planning to start classes to become a doula, which prompted her sister, Samantha, to check in with her.

"How's the doula training going?" texted Samantha, 28. The response came back: "It's going great. It's the best thing I've ever done. I love it so much." Texted emojis emphasized the point.

But Sluss' texts to Moynan herself before she disappeared also contributed to the case against him, says Holly Springs police Chief John Herring.

"He texted her excessively, and then on the day we believe she was killed, he never texted her again," says Herring. "That tells me he knew she wasn't there anymore."

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