Police have arrested a suspect in connection with the slaying of two people along Mississippi highways.
James D. Willie, 28, of Sardis, was arrested at 9 a.m. Tuesday, when Tunica police responded to a reported disturbance at an apartment on Old Highway 61. Responding officers found Willie with a woman who alleged he had raped her, and he was taken into custody.
At the time of Willie's arrest, a Ruger 9 mm, semi-automatic handgun was found in his possession. That weapon was sent to the state crime lab, where investigators determined it was a ballistic match to the weapon used in two murders in northwest Mississippi last week.
"The Bureau of Investigation and Crime Laboratory dedicated all resources available to this investigation," said Public Safety Commissioner Albert Santa Cruz. "Our citizens have been terrorized by these murders, and we worked tirelessly to resolve them."
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The slayings were three days and about 50 miles apart, and both victims' vehicles were found on the side of the road. Both victims had been shot.
The first murder occurred during the afternoon of May 8. Thomas Schlender, 74, of Raymond, Neb., was found dead inside his pickup, which was parked in the median of southbound Interstate 55 near the Pope, Miss., exit in Panola County. Schlender's wallet and several hundred dollars in cash were missing. At the time of his death, Schlender was en route to Florida to pick up his grandson from college.
The second homicide occurred on May 11, also in the afternoon. Lori Anne Carswell, 47, of Hernando, Miss., was found lying in the road next to her vehicle on the shoulder of State Highway 713 in Tunica County. An employee at a local casino, Carswell was on her way home from work when she was murdered.
Earlier this week, Larry Waggoner, director of the Mississippi Highway Patrol's Bureau of Investigation, said authorities suspected the killer was pretending to be a police officer. "The concern is that someone is posing as a law enforcement officer, and that is how these vehicles end up on the side of the road," Waggoner said.
Authorities now say that was apparently not the case. They have, however, yet to comment on a possible motive.
Willie is being held on charges of aggravated assault, kidnapping and rape. Authorities plan to formally charge him with two counts of capital murder.
"Hundreds of man-hours have been devoted to tracking down and arresting this individual," Gov. Phil Bryant said in a statement. "Public safety is of paramount concern to us. Just as a week ago, with the resolution of the kidnap/murder case in north Mississippi, again we see the effective results of a unified effort of several law enforcement agencies working together."