Sheriff: Bodies identified as missing Georgia couple; suspect charged with murder, robbery



Officials Tuesday identified two bodies found near their car in a Georgia pond as as an elderly couple who had driven to the area to buy a classic Mustang.

Telfair County Sheriff Chris Steverson said 69-year-old Elrey "Bud" Runion and his 66-year-old wife, June, were shot to death and that 28-year-old Ronnie Adrian "Jay" Towns of McRae has been charged with malice murder and armed robbery.

Towns appeared in court on Tuesday where a judge formally charged him with two counts of malice murder and armed robbery. Towns was denied bond and returned to Dodge County jail where he will remain until his next court appearance. 

Steverson said robbery appears to be the motive for the couple's killings, but he would not say whether the Runions were carrying cash or disclose other details about the case. On Monday, he said investigators had found no evidence that Towns owned the sort of classic car Runion was seeking.

Residents of McRae, a tiny city about 80 miles southeast of Macon, were stunned, trying to understand what happened to a young man who was known as a "very smart" and "good kid."

"This community feels betrayed," Steverson said. "For an individual who was raised in this community to have orchestrated such a heinous act, we are very upset to say the least."

Before Towns had been charged with their deaths, the sheriff had said a cellphone used to make the last known contact with the Runions had been traced to Towns, who turned himself in Monday accompanied by family members.

As of Tuesday, he remained the only suspect, said Jimmy Johnson, chief deputy at the sheriff's office.

The arrest also shocked Towns' family. He grew up on a farm beside a long dirt road where his father grew soybeans, cotton and peanuts.
The property isn't far from where the bodies were found.

Towns lived in neighboring Wheeler County with his family — a wife and a young daughter whom he supported by doing construction work for a local home builder, said his uncle, Buddy Towns.

"He's a good kid, and very smart," said the uncle, who often saw his nephew's truck pass his McRae business as Jay Towns headed to work. "It just doesn't make any sense why this would even go down. It's hard for his parents. They're not understanding."

The family of Towns told Fox 5 Atlanta on Tuesday that this is all a mistake and that he had nothing to do with this.

Much remained unknown about what happened to the Runions from the time the couple left home Thursday until authorities found their SUV Monday. The sheriff has said he planned to keep some details of the case under wraps until it goes to court.

The Runions are from Marietta, just outside Atlanta. On Thursday, they drove to McRae, about three hours away in south Georgia, to meet someone who had responded to Bud Runion's ad seeking a 1966 Mustang.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says family members became concerned when the couple didn't come back or answer calls.

"Our hearts really go out to the Runion family," Buddy Towns said. "We'd just like to let them know there are not all bad people in the world.

The Associated Press contributed to this story