Confidential informants told police the body of a missing Lincoln man was burned in a barrel over three days on a farm near Ashland, according to newly unsealed court records.
Those details surfaced in search warrants released this week that lay out how a quiet search by Lincoln police for 36-year-old Phillip Madlock transformed from a missing person's case to a drug and murder investigation.
On Dec. 12, 2017, Lincoln police learned Madlock's relative didn't tell investigators everything she knew about his disappearance when she reported him missing earlier in the year, according to the search warrants.
She didn't tell police that two men, later identified as Dominic Aguirre and Paul Clark, had been pursuing her brother, because she feared for her safety.
Until then, people who knew Madlock talked about his strange behavior following a return from the Dominican Republic and of him voicing concerns about people who were after him. Police hadn't publicized his disappearance, as sometimes happens in missing persons cases.
But in December of last year, the relative told police Aguirre and Clark had been offering a reward for information on Madlock's location, the search warrant said.
Over the next two months, police opened a drug investigation and later arrested Clark and Aguirre, accusing them of killing Madlock over a drug debt.
Clark took a plea deal from prosecutors and was sentenced to 60 to 80 years for assaulting Madlock and a weapons charge.
At his sentencing, Clark laid blame for Madlock's death on Aguirre, who has pleaded not guilty and is set to face trial on second-degree murder, kidnapping and weapons and assault charges in February.
Investigators learned Clark and his brother-in-law, Aguirre, dealt marijuana grown on Clark's property in California and they fronted Madlock marijuana with the expectation of payment after it was sold, according to search warrants.
But Madlock, according to investigators, faked a robbery to rip off Aguirre, not paying him for the drugs he fronted him, and Clark wanted the money back.
Police informants said the two assaulted Madlock in the garage of a house in the 100 block of Irving Street on June 28, 2017.
During a Jan. 24 search of the house, investigators found Madlock's blood in the garage.
From the house on Irving Street, informants told police Clark and Aguirre loaded Madlock into his truck, took it to a car dealership on Cornhusker Highway, where they added dealer's license plates to the truck, then left headed for a house in the 2400 block of South Ninth Street belonging to Clark, the search warrant said.
Investigators believe Madlock died in the back of his truck while en route.
Ultimately, an informant told investigators, Madlock's body was taken to a farm near Ashland, pulled from the truck and set afire in a burn barrel.
Police searched that farm Jan. 20 and recovered bone fragments, according to the warrant. But spokeswoman Officer Angela Sands said forensic testing determined the bones were not human, and Madlock's body has not been found.
In January, investigators found Madlock's green 2002 Chevy Avalanche in the backyard of the home of Aguirre's mother in Eagle and learned that on about the Fourth of July in 2017, Clark and Aguirre borrowed a trailer, took it to a property near Ashland and brought back a truck.
Clark and Aguirre were charged in Madlock's death later that month.
Clark is incarcerated at the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center in Lincoln. Aguirre remains at the Lancaster County jail.
If convicted of all the charges, Aguirre faces life imprisonment.