Authorities believe a South Carolina father killed his five children before driving to Alabama and dumping their bodies on a dirt road in a rural area.
An Alabama Department of Public Safety spokesman told the Associated Press that Timothy Ray Jones Jr., 32, led police to the site near the town of Camden where the bodies were found. The site was off a two-lane highway, said Alabama Department of Public Safety spokesman Sgt. Steve Jarrett.
Authorities in South Carolina and Mississippi said that Jones has been charged with child neglect and additional charges are expected to be lodged in connection with the children’s deaths.
The children ranged from 1 to 8 years old and were reported missing by their mother on Sept. 3, authorities said.
“This is a very tragic situation,” Wilcox County (Ala.) District Attorney Michael Jackson said. “These kids’ lives were snuffed out before they had a chance to enjoy life. Justice will be served.”
Police have not released details on how the children died. Lexington County (S.C.) Coroner Earl Wells was arranging for the children’s bodies to be taken back to South Carolina for autopsies and identification Tuesday night, sheriff’s officials said.
At the scene where authorities said the bodies were found, investigators could be seen late Tuesday working in a clearing at the top of a hill lit by floodlights.
Jones was being held in Smith County, Mississippi, awaiting extradition to South Carolina, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation said in a news release.
Jones was detained in Smith County on Saturday after being stopped at a motor vehicle checkpoint near Raleigh, Mississippi, and charged with drunken driving, Smith County Sheriff Charlie Crumpton said in a news release.
Crumpton said Jones became agitated when a deputy questioned him about an odor of chemicals coming from the Cadillac Escalade he was driving. The deputy found what were believed to be chemicals used to manufacture methamphetamine and a substance believed to be the street drug Spice, a form of synthetic marijuana, Crumpton said. A sheriff’s office investigator was called and found what appeared to be bleach, muriatic acid, blood and possible body fluids, he said.
During a background check, police discovered that Jones was wanted in South Carolina “regarding a welfare concern of his children,” who were on a national missing persons list, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation said in a statement.
Investigators from several departments and the FBI started looking for the missing children on Monday, Crumpton said. He said the children’s decomposed bodies were found in individual plastic garbage bags.
Jarrett told a news conference that authorities were not sure why Jones drove through Alabama.
Jones had joint custody of the children and is divorced from their mother, police said. They said he told neighbors that he and the children were moving to another state.
Marlene Hyder and her husband, Johnny Hyder, said Jones and his wife moved into a house next to them about seven years ago in Batesburg-Leesville, South Carolina, 25 miles west of Columbia. They said Jones told them he worked in computers. Two years ago, the wife moved in with a male neighbor and Tim Jones moved away with the children, the Hyders said.
Johnny Hyder said the children were often dressed in dirty clothes and were seen home at all hours of the day because Tim Jones had said he didn’t believe in the public schools. Hyder said Jones was constantly looking for a reason to argue and often threatened to call the police. He said Jones approached him with a gun on his hip one day and was angry about something, but Hyder couldn’t remember what it was. When Hyder said he was going to call police, he said Jones told him it was only a BB gun.
“It wasn’t a BB gun,” Hyder said. “It was a real gun. I know what one looks like, but I didn’t want to cause any more trouble.”
Marlene Hyder said Jones threatened to kill one of their dogs when it briefly went onto his property.
“He was a nut,” she said.
Marlene Hyder said she also remembered a day when one of the Jones’ younger children came over to the Hyders’ house and tried to drink out of one of their outdoor spigots. He was dirty and disheveled and ran back to his house when she tried to speak to him, she said.
A “no trespassing” sign was posted near the driveway of a house where the Hyders said Tim Jones’ ex-wife still lived with the other neighbor. Several people were seen walking around the yard, but none responded to questions from a reporter.