Ga. cop who shot two bought murder weapon day of killings

In the two months since Glynn County police officer Robert "Cory" Sasser shot and killed his estranged wife, Katie Kettles Sasser, and her male friend, John Hall, Jr., before killing himself, the question hanging over the case had troubling implications for police: Did local law enforcement officers help Sasser locate his victims?

Police officers and 911 dispatchers have access to powerful databases that contain drivers license and vehicle registration information as well as personal information such as home addresses. Findings of a Georgia Bureau of Investigation inquiry into that question released late last week concluded that Sasser tried to enlist the help of fellow officers, but none of them acted on his overtures.

“There is no information that anyone provided Sasser information that Katie Sasser and John Hall Jr. would be located together at Hall’s residence on the Thursday evening of the murders,” according to a six-page summary of the GBI investigation issued by Brunswick DA Jackie Johnson.

But the summary of the investigation and accompanying timeline reveal that Sasser had possession of firearms a court had ordered him to relinquish, and he was able to purchase the murder weapon the day of the murders because he was still in possession of a concealed carry firearms permit, which allowed him to avoid a criminal background check. He also lied on the background check forms about his arrests for domestic violence and mental health troubles.

The report also reveals Sasser was consumed by revenge, struggling through a mental breakdown and determined to carry out his own form of violent justice as his marriage dissolved. Even before the murders, Sasser was notorious in Georgia law enforcement circles because he was one of two Glynn County officers who shot an unarmed mother, Caroline Small, in 2010 and escaped prosecution despite evidence the shooting was unjustified.

The GBI report’s release coincides with the arrest of Sasser’s 21-year-old son, Bryce Sasser, last Thursday on a charge of misdemeanor reckless conduct for allowing his father access to his gun collection.

At the time of the murders, Sasser had possession of three of his weapons that the court ordered his son to hold as well as a shotgun that he purchased from a Valdosta firearms dealer hours before the June 28 murders.

Phone reveals search history

Even though Sasser had been banned from the Glynn County and the rest of the Brunswick judicial circuit because of violent confrontation with his wife and subsequent standoff with police in May, Sasser was allowed to return for a June 26 custody hearing. Sasser was allowed limited visitation with his 10-year-old son. His banishment from Glynn County was upheld.

Hours after the hearing, his text messages and internet searches hinted at his frame of mind: “how to over come divorce if she wins” and “Recovering your life after divorce,” were among the searches investigators later recovered from his smartphone.

One friend texted and asked how the hearing went: “Not good at all,” Sasser replied.

A couple hours later, Sasser and his son, Bryce, spotted Kettles Sasser and Hall at a local pizza restaurant, Moondoggy’s, where Sasser allegedly cocked his hand in the silhouette of a gun and pulled the trigger. Sasser denied he made a threatening motion, the report said, instead claiming he waved at friend at the restaurant.

Hours later, however, Sasser was restless and couldn’t sleep. He started searching for Tolomato Island — the community where Hall lived — on his phone.

The next day, on the morning of June 27, as Kettles Sasser and Hall met separately with Glynn police investigators to discuss the threat at the restaurant, Sasser was at a Savannah car dealership to trade in his pickup truck for a new Toyota Tacoma. As he was moving his belongings from his old truck, someone at the dealer spotted him transferring what appeared to be an AR-15 rifle, a Glock handgun and a hunting rifle.

Around lunchtime, he was in McIntosh County when he contacted a dispatcher with the sheriff’s department and told her he was lost in an area on Tolomato Island. He said he’d heard about a piece property that was for sale by an owner and he wanted to give her the name of the homeowner. But the dispatcher told him she couldn’t perform the query.

An hour later, he searched “john hall jr. tolomato” and shortly later searched “husband kills man who wife cheats with” on his smartphone before leaving the area and driving west through the Florida Panhandle en routed toward Mobile where he was staying with his sister.

The day of the murders

The next day, June 28, as officials in Brunswick discussed the possibility of revoking Sasser’s bond based on the episode at the pizza joint, a detective with Glynn County said there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest him on an aggravated stalking charge.

That morning, Sasser viewed the Benelli gun manufacturer website on his phone and checked out a life insurance web page, according to the report. He called a funeral home in Brunswick to make arrangements for his cremation and set out east in his pickup truck, through the Florida Panhandle toward Georgia.

Along the way, he called his sister, Dannette, to tell her he wanted to be cremated and that his funeral arrangements were paid. In Valdosta, he purchased the shotgun. As he drove east toward Brunswick, an assistant DA in Johnson’s office called at Sasser at 5:15 p.m., according to records. Over the course of the 22 minute conversation, the prosecutor spoke to Sasser about talking to a counselor about his anger. But she never asked his whereabouts. It sounded like he was driving and she assumed he was driving west toward Alabama, the report said.

About 6 p.m., a neighbor of Hall’s spotted a Toyota pickup truck driving onto Tolomato Island. He called a friend in the Glynn County police department and for the second time that day asked him to search the police department’s database for Hall’s address. Yarborough said he didn’t want his name linked to a query and declined.

“I just wanna teach the mother (expletive) about principles, I wanna show him what (expletive) principles are about,” Sasser said, according to the report.

A couple hours later, after one of Hall’s neighbors had spotted Sasser’s pickup truck parked in the neighborhood, Bryce didn’t know his father’s whereabouts. He’d become concerned when he returned to his house in Brunswick and found a large quantify of cash and his father’s watch next to the bed.

As he dialed over and over, calling seven times, his father wouldn’t pick up. Simultaneously, a neighbor of Hall’s heard shots and called 911. A neighbor spotted a man — Sasser — exiting Hall’s home. Sasser pointed the gun at him and told him “that’s what happens when you sleep with another man’s wife.”

As he fled, Sasser called his son, Bryce, who had followed his father into law enforcement and was just starting his career as an officer in Brunswick.

“It’s done bud, it’s done,” Sasser said. “I killed them, I killed them both.”

Officers pursued Sasser back to his home in Brunswick. Sometime after midnight, SWAT officers approached the brand new pickup truck parked in the driveway. They found Sasser motionless inside the Tacoma, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot to the chest.

Our reporting

The AJC and Channel 2 Action News have reported on the questionable shooting of Caroline Small since 2015, when the outlets publicized the brutal nature of her killing and raised questions about how prosecutors in Brunswick absolved the officers of wrongdoing. One of the two officers who shot Small died in 2017. Cory Sasser, the second, took his own life June 28 after murdering his wife and her male friend.