GUNTOWN, Miss. >> Days of grueling searches for two young girls and the kidnapper who killed their mother and sister led to the kind of terrain that favors the hunted — high hardwoods and deep ravines near a red-brick church perched on a hill.
Specially trained officers had come up empty-handed for days but were following another lead Thursday evening after Adam Mayes was put on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List. Dozens of tips turned up nothing. This latest lead officers to the woods near Zion Hill Baptist Church, just a couple of miles from Mayes’ rented mobile home in Guntown, where 31-year-old Jo Ann Bain and her 14-year-old daughter, Adrienne, had been buried in a shallow grave.
The officers had searched the church and later split up and set out down two old logging roads leading deep into the forest. Just 60 yards down, Mississippi Highway Patrol Master Sgt. Steve Crawford saw a little girl’s head in the dirt. Within inches, another child. A few more inches, the man who proved so elusive.
A search that dragged on for days ended in seconds.
"Let’s see your hands," the officers shouted.
Mayes pushed himself up to his knees, pulled out a 9 mm pistol and shot himself in the head. He didn’t utter a word, and died a couple hours later at hospital.
Twelve-year-old Alexandria Bain and 8-year-old Kyliyah sat up, subdued, within reach of Mayes’ body. Crawford said they didn’t cry, instead looking almost relieved.
"Now we can go home," Lt. Lee Ellington heard the older girl tell her little sister. Ellington was part of a team from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
Home was a place the girls hadn’t seen since April 27, when Mayes, a friend they considered an uncle, killed Jo Ann and Adrienne Bain in the garage of their home in Whiteville, Tenn., according to police.
Mayes, a friend of Jo Ann’s husband, Gary, had gone to the house the night before to help the family pack for a move to Arizona. Instead, police say he killed the mother and daughter, packed their corpses into a car, grabbed the younger girls and headed south with his wife to the mobile home in Guntown. Authorities have not said how they were killed or what time it may have happened.
Police say Gary Bain told them his wife and daughters were asleep when he went to bed at midnight and were gone when he woke the next day, but he figured the girls went to school and Jo Ann had gone somewhere, too. But she didn’t answer her phone that day, and the girls never got off the school bus that afternoon.
At 8 p.m., he called the Hardeman County Sherriff’s Office to report them missing. Police interviewed Mayes. Even Mayes admits to investigators on April 29 that he was the last one to see Jo Ann and the girls, but police said they had no evidence of a crime. And it first, it wasn’t known if Jo Ann had willingly left and taken the kids with her.
On April 30, Jo Ann Bain’s SUV was found abandoned on a country road in Tennessee. That same day, Adam Mayes was seen at a market in Mississippi with his usual long hair chopped off. He told another customer it will be cooler in the hot, brutal Southern summer; investigators would later warn he may have cut the girls’ hair to disguise them, too.
Hardeman County Sheriff John Doolen said two days later that Mayes is a person of interest in the case but that there are no signs of foul play — not yet.
On May 4, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued an endangered child alert, pleading for the public’s help in finding the family. At first, investigators still said they have no evidence of a crime.
However, according to police documents, Mayes’ wife, Teresa admitted her involvement around the same time. The documents show Teresa Mayes told investigators she saw Adam Mayes kill the mother and daughter in the garage of their home so he could abduct the younger children. Their bodies were loaded into a car, along with Adam Mayes, Alexandria and Kyliyah, and Teresa Mayes drove everyone some two hours to the mobile home in Guntown. Teresa Mayes also tells authorities she saw her husband digging a hole in the backyard.
On May 5, the Mississippi Highway Patrol issued an amber alert for the children in that state, warning that Mayes is armed and dangerous. That same day, investigators say two bodies are found buried in the Mayes’ backyard. They are badly decomposed and are not identified as Jo Ann and Adrienne Bain until two days later.
By May 8, Adam Mayes’ wife and his mother have been arraigned on charges of helping with the crimes, but there was still no trace of the two sisters. The girls told their rescuers they had gone three days without any food or water, so it’s possible that’s about the time they began hiding out in the woods, an area filled with old deer hunting shelters. Some investigators believe they were in the woods even longer before being found late Thursday, exhausted, dehydrated and itching with poison ivy.
Alexandria and Kyliyah’s ordeal then came to an abrupt end, just a few miles from where their mother and sister had been buried. They were given water, whisked away in an ambulance, shielded by giant white sheets at the hospital so they could walk into the emergency room without the glare of news cameras.
Adam Mayes spared them. They were alive. Now it will be up to the fragile memories of young, traumatized girls to answer the questions nagging at experienced lawmen who worked long hours to find them: Where had they been? How did they survive in the woods?
And then there are the painful questions that need to be answered. Did Mayes hurt them? Did they watch their mom and big sister die?
But because Adam Mayes put a bullet in his head, people may never solve the biggest mystery: Why did he do all this?
"That was too good for him. He should have suffered just a little bit more," said Beverly Goodman, Jo Ann Bain’s aunt. "I was hoping they was gonna take him alive ’cause I wanted some answers to some questions that probably will never get answered now."
Associated Press writers Erik Schelzig in Whiteville, Tenn., and Adrian Sainz in Guntown contributed to this report.