LAGRANGE, Ga. » A Georgia man charged in the deaths of his wife, three of her family members and a friend was arrested at a bus station in Tupelo, Mississippi, authorities said Monday.
Investigators suspect the victims had been dead for three days when deputies found them late Saturday, Troup County Sheriff James Woodruff said. A worried employer had called to report one of the victims missing from work.
The suspect, Thomas J. Lee, 26 was arrested after telling a Mississippi pastor that he was having car trouble and needed to get to Opelika, Alabama, Woodruff said. The pastor helped get Lee a bus ticket, but called police later when he realized authorities were searching for him.
Lee is facing five counts of malice murder in the slayings. It was unclear whether he had an attorney.
The dead include Lee’s wife, 33-year-old Christie Lee; her 16-year-old daughter, Bailey Burtron; and the slain woman’s parents, 69-year-old William Burtron and 68-year-old Sheila Burtron. Also killed was a family friend, 18-year-old Iiaonna Green, who authorities said had been living with the family. All of the victims were found in the home where they and Lee lived.
At least four of them had been shot, Woodruff said, though he cautioned that an official cause of death won’t be known until authorities have the results of autopsies, which were being conducted Monday.
The Burtrons lived in a quiet suburb outside LaGrange, about 80 miles southwest of Atlanta and just east of the Alabama state line. The sheriff said deputies went to the house Saturday night after William Burtron’s employer called to say he hadn’t come to work in days, which he said was unusual because Burtron never called in sick. When deputies found the families’ cars parked outside but nobody answered the door, they forced their way into the house.
They found William Burtron dead in the kitchen, and the other four victims slain in three separate bedrooms. One of the victims was found in bed, the sheriff said.
"We canvassed the entire neighborhood and talked to next-door neighbors and people down the street, and nobody saw or heard a thing," Woodruff said.
Woodruff said no prior domestic problems had been reported at the house, and he was not aware of the suspect having a prior criminal record.