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Mississippi highway killings: Suspect (not fake officer) arrested

May 18, 2012|By Richard Fausset
  • Tunica Sheriff Calvin "K.C." Hamp announces that authorities have arrested a suspect in two fatal highway shootings in Mississippi.
Tunica Sheriff Calvin "K.C." Hamp announces that authorities… (Rogelio V. Solis / Associated…)

Mississippi authorities have arrested a man in connection with the two recent and mysterious roadside slayings that had initially led them to theorize that a killer was luring victims to a stop by posing as a police officer.

But though they believe they have their man in James D. Willie, a 28-year-old felon from the small town of Sardis, Miss., they do not believe that he ever impersonated a cop.

Warren Strain, a spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, told the Los Angeles Times on Friday that the fake-officer theory had been floated only as one "plausible scenario" -- one that caused considerable fear statewide.

"But it was a situation where if we didn't do anything and he was posing as a police officer, then holy cow, you've got a whole different ballgame there," Strain said.

Willie was arrested at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Tunica, when police responded to a rape call. They found him there with the purported victim and with a Ruger 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun, officials said. The state crime lab tested it and determined that it was the same weapon used in the two roadside slayings earlier this month, they said.

Strain said officials were not yet ready to divulge the motive behind the slayings of Thomas K. Schlender, 74, of Raymond, Neb., who was found May 8 in his Ford pickup truck in Panola County; and Lori Anne Carswell, 48, of Hernando, Miss., who was found May 11 beside her Pontiac Grand Am in Tunica County.

Willie is being held on charges of aggravated assault, rape and kidnapping. He is expected to be charged Friday with two counts of capital murder.

"The Bureau of Investigation and Crime Laboratory dedicated all resources available to this investigation," Public Safety Commissioner Albert Santa Cruz said in a prepared statement. "Our citizens have been terrorized by these murders and we worked tirelessly to resolve them."

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richard.fausset@latimes.com

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