Friend Says Murdered Woman, Accused Husband Split Before 2-State Killing Spree

A murdered Tennessee woman and her husband had split up sometime before a weekend killing spree that has rocked a normally peaceful southern Tennessee community.

The rampage began Friday night in the town of Huntsville, Ala., with the beating death of Sidney Wade Dempsey, an acquaintance of the accused killer, 30-year-old Jason Shaffer, Huntsville police said.

Shaffer has been charged with six counts of murder. He was arraigned Monday in Fayetteville, Tenn., where the bodies of his 38-year-old wife Traci, her father, brother, teenage son and neighbor were found Saturday.

Residents were shaken by news of the murders.

"You just can't imagine anything like that happening in a community like Lincoln," Donny Ogle, a Lincoln County commisioner, told The Huntsville Times.

A family friend told The Associated Press on Sunday that Shaffer and his wife fought often and were separated at the time of the murders.

"As far as seeing him do something like this, you just can't see it," family friend James Wilson said. He said the Shaffers had "gotten into it" before, but he never expected such violence.

Wilson said he's the boyfriend of Traci Shaffer's sister, Jennifer, who is devastated by the loss of her family.

"She's not handling it and I can't blame her," he said. "What can you say to someone who has lost everybody?"

Traci Shaffer, her son, Devin Brooks, and neighbor, Robert Berber, both 16, were found dead Saturday in her home in rural Fayetteville, said Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Kristin Helm. The bodies of Traci Shaffer's brother, Chris Hall, 34, and father Billy Hall, 57, were found in a home across the road.

The Shaffers were no longer sharing a home but had not filed for separation, said the 29-year-old Wilson, who was gathering belongings from Traci's house in Lincoln County.

The couple had a 4-year-old daughter, and Wilson said police told him the girl was home during the killings but wasn't hurt. Wilson said he met Jacob Shaffer when they were installing drywall, but they had stopped being friends about a year and a half ago.

Shaffer was still installing drywall around Huntsville, and Billy Hall had been driving him back and forth to work before the couple split, Wilson said.

"Her dad done everything he could for Jacob," Wilson said. "I have no idea why he walked across the street to her daddy and her brother. Her daddy never done anything wrong."

Helm said Jason Shaffer's motive was domestic, but authorities have not released a chronology of the killings or many details, including how the six victims died.

Traci's murdered son and a 9-year-old daughter, who wasn't home during the killings, were from a previous relationship, Wilson said. Her sister was trying to figure out how to pay for her family's funeral, he said.

Jacob Shaffer, of Fayetteville, was being held without bond at the Lincoln County Jail. No lawyer for him was listed.

Lincoln County Sheriff Murray Blackwelder said Saturday that his department was investigating three crime scenes and would not confirm the causes of death in what he called "horrendous" killings. Autopsies were performed Sunday but no results were released. Wilson said police wouldn't tell him how the family was killed.

Helm said the family died Friday night or early Saturday and that Jacob Shaffer was sitting on the porch of one of the houses when authorities first arrived. Huntsville police said information from him led them to the body at the granite business. They have not released the name of the sixth victim.

Fayetteville is a town of 7,000 people about 90 miles south of Nashville near the Tennessee-Alabama border.

Click here to read more on this story from The Huntsville Times.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.