Published October 25, 2012
FAYETTEVILLE, Tenn. – The recent homicides of six people along the Tennessee-Alabama state line have brought back fear and bad memories of previous violent killings near the quiet rural town of Fayetteville, Tenn.
Dozens of law enforcement personnel in Tennessee and Alabama have been working long hours over the past three days to identify a suspect in the deaths of three women and a toddler near Fayetteville and the deaths of two men in Alabama. The bodies of the women and child were found Monday. The bodies of the men were found the following day.
The killings come just three years after six people, including a family in Tennessee and a man in Alabama, were slain near the same border town.
For Lincoln County Sheriff Murray Blackwelder, this is his second multiple-homicide case in a six-year career. The recurrence so soon of such violence has taken a toll on everyone in the county, from police officers to the families who live there, he said.
"It shakes the community," he said. "It shakes it to its core and I understand people being nervous. I understand people being scared because of the unknown."
Authorities on Monday found the bodies of 22-year-old Chabreya Campbell, her 18-month-old son, Rico Ragland, and her friend, 21-year-old Amber McCaulley of Huntsville, Ala., in a home near Fayetteville. Campbell was six months pregnant. A 3-year-old boy was unharmed.
Hours later, police found 21-year-old Jessica Brown's body in a house elsewhere in the county. A 2-month-old infant in the house was not hurt.
Investigators started looking for 24-year-old Warren Vincent Crutcher as a person of interest in the case, but he was found dead Tuesday, his body dumped in some Alabama woods just across the state line. A sixth victim, identified as Jeffrey Pope, was found dead the same day in his Huntsville, Ala., home. The common thread in all three cases: Crutcher knew the other victims.
As investigators try to unravel the case, some in the community can't help but be reminded of the July 2009 killings. Like the events of that year, the latest crimes have left them in shock.
In the 2009 case, sheriff's deputies found 38-year-old Traci Shaffer, her son, Devin Brooks, and neighbor Robert Berber, both 16, dead in their home. The bodies of Traci Shaffer's brother, Chris Hall, 34, and father Billy Hall, 57, were found in a home across the road.
Jacob Shaffer and his unharmed 4-year-old daughter were found by authorities sitting on the porch of one of the homes where the bodies were found. Authorities then found 50-year-old Sidney Wade Dempsey beaten to death at a business in Huntsville, Ala., about 30 miles south.
Shaffer pleaded guilty to five counts of murder in the Tennessee slayings and was given five life sentences. He has not yet gone to trial in Dempsey's slaying.
Sheila Brannon, 50, has lived in Fayetteville her whole life and works just over the state line in Alabama at a fast food restaurant not far from where one of the bodies was found this week. Brannon said she immediately thought back to the Shaffer family.
"I never expected it to happen here again," she said, while standing outside the Fayetteville courthouse in the town's bustling downtown square.
She said the latest slayings have made her skittish and fearful, and she doesn't understand why anyone would kill a child.
"I thought it was sick. It's horrible," she said. "It's not like the baby could talk."
Blackwelder said there are similarities between this year's case and the 2009 killings.
While he said he couldn't go into detail, in both instances, family members and acquaintances were targeted, some children were killed while others were left unscathed, and the crime scenes were in both Tennessee and Alabama, miles apart.
Blackwelder said the intensity of the police work necessary to bring the Shaffer case to trial has been difficult on his deputies and staff.
"Unfortunately we have the distinction of having two multiple homicides and it takes a huge toll on the personnel," he said. "It takes a toll on their personal lives and it takes a toll on the resources that we have."
He said the investigators are working just as diligently as they did three years again to solve the latest killings. And he tried to assure residents that they shouldn't be afraid.
"I don't feel like the residents of Lincoln or Madison counties, either one, should be concerned with their safety, because this was not a random act," he said.