'Hole in Our Hearts': Ex Convicted of Murdering Missing Mom, Faking Texts to Her Parents to Hide Killing

North Carolina mom Monica Moynan, 22, disappeared in April 2019 but prosecutors said her killer continued to send reassuring messages to her family from her phone

monica moynan
Monica Moynan. Photo: Holly Springs Police Department

A North Carolina man who masqueraded as his ex-girlfriend for months in texts he sent to her family has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the still-missing woman's murder.

Monica Moynan, 22, was killed on April 7, 2019, while she was living with her ex-boyfriend Brian Sluss and their two children in Holly Hills, according to police. Until then, Sluss had been texting her "excessively," former Holly Springs police Chief John Herring told PEOPLE in 2020.

Then his texts to her abruptly stopped.

But for the next three months, through late July 2019, a steady patter of text messages and exchanges allowed Monica's mother, Melanie Tucker, to believe she was communicating with her daughter.

The two discussed topics such as birthday plans, or Monica's worry that a lost cat would upset her oldest daughter. Messages sent from the phone of Monica, who worked as a waitress while starting a home-based business making and selling immune-boosting elderberry syrup, even assured her sister that she was thriving during training to become a doula. "It's going great," one text said. "It's the best thing I've ever done. I love it so much."

Yet as Tucker kept placing unanswered calls and trying to arrange get-togethers, it started to seem like her daughter was avoiding her.

Tucker finally helped to expose the hoax, and alerted police to her fears that Monica was missing, 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.

monica moynan
Monica Moynan with daughters Nova, left, and Kayleigh.

Sluss was charged with her murder and convicted Thursday under a provision called Britny's Law, which allows jurors to reach a first-degree murder verdict in cases where prior domestic violence involving the same defendant and victim suggests premeditation.

He previously had been convicted in 2019 for physically assaulting Monica, reports the News & Observer.

"Hearing the verdict released an amazing collection of feelings," Tucker and her husband, Brandon, shared in an exclusive statement to PEOPLE. "Relief, vindication, even joy. We immediately understood that the jury heard us, they heard Moni, they knew the truth and they came to the only decision possible with this information, very quickly and unanimously."

"'Thank you Jesus and thank you to each jury member' were the first thoughts and words out of Melanie's mouth," they said. "When every member of the jury came back in after the verdict to meet with us, we could not hug them tight enough!"

"Our hopes for Monica are that she is finally at peace. We will never stop hoping for her to be brought home so we can lay her to rest properly and be near to her."

Brian Sluss and Jarlyn Sluss
Brian Sluss, at left, and Jarlyn Sluss. City-County Bureau of Identification

After Sluss' arrest, police also arrested his ex-wife, Jarlyn Lisbeth Sluss, on charges of obstruction of justice and accessory after-the-fact for her alleged connection to the murder. She has pleaded not guilty, and testified against Sluss at his just-completed trial.

"The one thing I had always wanted was to be able to bring [Monica's] body home and I couldn't do that for the [family], that is a regret I will always have," Kathryn Pomeroy, the Wake County assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case, told the media after the verdict, reports the News & Observer. "But to get this justice today means everything."

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Prosecutors said that blood found in the home shared by Monica and Brian Sluss, along with the history of domestic violence in their relationship, pointed to only one outcome.

"She was a vibrant force, she was magnetic, her energy was very strong," Melanie Tucker said in court after the guilty verdict, reports WRAL. "A piece of our family puzzle is gone forever. Brian Sluss took that from us."

Brandon Tucker said to Sluss in court: "There is a mental agony in knowing what you did to Moni. An agony that causes sleepless nights and leaves an eternal hole in our hearts."

Police said in search warrants previously obtained by PEOPLE that Sluss admitted to impersonating Monica through the text messages.

Her two daughters, Kayleigh, now 6, and Nova, 3, have been adopted by the Tuckers, "and they are amazing resilient little people who are full of love and loved dearly," the Tuckers said in their statement, which thanked the "great work" of law enforcement and prosecutors for achieving the verdict.

"We have and will continue to make sure they know how fantastic their mommy was and how they were her world!" they said. "Her love for them was larger than life and they will know this."

If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.

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