They planned to drive about 200 miles from their Cobb County home to look at an antique car for sale. But the vintage Ford Mustang didn’t exist.
After four days of searching, investigators said Monday afternoon that two bodies believed to be the couple were found in southeast Georgia, along with their GMC Envoy.
“It’s a sad ending for us in this community,” Telfair County Sheriff Chris Steverson said. “We’ve got a close-knit community here. It hurts us to know that someone came to our community and met this fate.”
Elrey “Bud” and June Runion, of Marietta, left their home Thursday morning and made the drive to McRae, where they thought they were meeting a man selling a vintage car through Craigslist. If they liked it, the Runions hoped to buy it and bring it home with them.
The Runions made it to Telfair County, but there was no car. Instead, investigators believe it may have been a scheme to rob the couple, the sheriff said.
Bud, 69, and June, 66, were reported missing when their three adult daughters couldn’t reach them. Cellphone records helped police determine the Runions were in McRae and that a local man named Ronnie Adrian “Jay” Towns was the last to speak to them.
“The phone was bought a very short time ago,” Steverson said. “This deal was negotiated for the Runions to come to Telfair County. And it was soon turned off.”
Towns, 28, was one of the first people deputies interviewed in the case, Steverson said Monday. But by Sunday, investigators had determined parts of Towns’ account didn’t match up and arrest warrants were issued, charging him with giving false statements and criminal attempt to commit theft by deception in connection with the couple’s disappearance.
Towns surrendered late Monday morning accompanied by family members, Steverson said. He has “little to no” criminal history, Steverson said. Charges could be upgraded against Towns depending on the continuing investigation. Autopsies will be conducted on the couple, Steverson said.
“For now, he is the only subject that we are seeking,” Steverson said. “However, that could change.”
Steverson called Towns’ arrest uneventful. But around the same time, investigators found the Runions’ vehicle, a 2003 champagne-colored GMC Envoy, submerged in water. Later in the day, the two bodies were recovered nearby, police said.
In the days while the couple was missing, the Runions’ three daughters used social media and television appearances to discuss the case. Thousands of people have posted on a Facebook page dedicated to finding the couple, offering prayers for the couple’s safe return. By late Monday afternoon, those words changed to sympathetic messages, mostly from strangers.
“During this heartbreaking time I ask that you keep the family and friends in your thoughts and prayers,” a post from the family said.
Late Monday evening, the family posted that a phony fund-raising page had been set up in the Runions’ name. Those wishing to help the family were advised not to donate to an online account unless it was posted on the family’s Facebook page.
The Runions had lived for more than three decades in their Marietta home, where they raised their children and more recently welcomed their grandchildren. June was a longtime second-grade teacher in Cobb County and was still working as a preschool instructor at Johnson Ferry Baptist, a daughter said Monday. Bud, retired from AT&T, used to collect old bicycle parts, restore them and build new bikes that he would deliver to underprivileged children at Christmas.
The GBI and Cobb County police assisted with the investigation.
— Staff writer Christian Boone contributed to this report.