Calhoun County's sheriff says his office has cleared two homicides, despite the death of the suspect and a number of unanswered questions.
Sheriff Larry Amerson held a news conference Tuesday to go into detail as to why his investigators believe Jonathan Singleton killed his own uncle, John Payne, and a man he apparently barely knew, Joey Alford.
"We have and strange and twisted story," said Amerson.
Alford had been missing for several days before family members searched his property and found his body, dead from gunshot wounds, stuffed in a wooden box in December.
Two months later came the standoff with, and death of, Singleton, and the discovery of his uncle, John Payne, also dead of gunshot wounds.
Authorities from Calhoun and Etowah Counties went to Singleton's grandmother's home on Gate Five Road in Alexandria to arrest him for failing to appear in Etowah County on a child abuse warrant. He was also wanted on a similar warrant in Marshall County. Singleton's grandmother, Geneva Payne, went with the deputies. The standoff started when Singleton was spotted with a shotgun, told his grandmother to shut the door, then fired a gunshot.
As deputies cleared the property they found the body of John Payne in a mobile home, and they found what they believe to be a grave someone was digging for him. Amerson says he believes Singleton killed Payne but admits he has no motive. He does say Payne had not been seen for two weeks, Singleton was seen driving his truck, and Singleton told family members Payne was on an "extended camping trip."
The standoff ended when Singleton committed suicide. A tear gas cannister fired into the home apparently set it on fire--the fire marshal ruled it an accident--but Sheriff Amerson says a collection of oil lamps likely accelerated the blaze.
Amerson says his investigators found evidence that finally tie the two crimes together.
He says Singleton's DNA was found on Joey Alford's socks, where he had apparently dragged Alford's body from the porch, where Alford had been shot, to the box behind his garage. Investigators also found a camera and a cell phone, and some guns, that tied everything together.
Amerson says the camera had pictures of Rebecca Terry and the cell phone belonged to Eric Edwards. The two were apparently living with Alford for a time, and they were employed at his welding business in Gadsden. Amerson says Terry and Edwards lived together, and were staying temporarily with Alford. Amerson also says Singleton previously dated Terry.
Amerson said Terry and Singleton texted each other before Alford's disappearance, and that Terry had expressed displeasure at Alford and had gotten some friends to help her move out.
During this time, Eric Edwards was in the Etowah County jail, having been picked up during a traffic stop on an unrelated charge.
Joey Alford's cell phone was never recovered, but Amerson says Terry sent messages to, and received messages from, that cell phone even during Alford's disappearance. The conversation stopped when she texted Alford's phone with the news about his body being found.
Amerson says he believes Singleton was using Alford's phone to send the phony texts.
Amerson says Singleton and Alford apparently never knew each other, and Singleton "wasn't even on our radar" during the initial investigation. He says Terry and Edwards have been cleared in these cases. He believes the motive for Alford's death is linked to conversations about Terry's unhappiness with Alford, and Singleton's apparent repeated questions about the status of any relationship between Terry and Alford.
"You couldn't make this stuff up," Amerson said of the intertwined, complex series of events.
He credits his investigators with doing a great job of putting the pieces of the puzzle together, despite extended waits from forensics labs hit with budget cuts, not to mention such an unlikely series of events and a suspect who was dead and couldn't be interviewed.
Geneva Payne still insists, however, that her grandson, Jonathan Singleton, didn't kill his uncle/her son, John Payne, because the two were so close, and doesn't believe he killed Alford either. She says she plans to sue over the fire that destroyed the house she owned.
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