Backtracking suspected killer’s road to Kennesaw

TEMPLE — Sometime before noon Tuesday, Jesse James Warren put on camouflage clothing. He got into his truck, a red Chevy S-10, and drove.

Warren reached the intersection of Ga. 113 and 120. This is the heart of Draketown, a community of modest homes and businesses where the 60-year-old often shopped. About 50 miles northwest of Atlanta, it’s ringed by woods.

Warren turned east on Ga. 120, traveling less than a mile before stopping at the Draketown Superette. It’s one of those places where you can buy toilet fixtures, rent action-movie DVDs, pick up a loaf of bread and some mayo to slap on it.

He got none of that. On that morning, as north Georgia still shivered in a cold snap, he walked through the double doors and offered a quiet hello to the guy working the counter.

Looking back, no one there noticed anything different.

But something was different. Police say Warren had guns in the truck, and murder on his mind.

A nearly anonymous man

Warren, an unemployed truck mechanic, is in Cobb County Jail, charged with three counts of murder. Police say that about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Warren returned to his former employer, Penske Truck Rental near Kennesaw. Carrying two weapons, they say, he walked into the garage area where he once worked. Booms cracked the air.

The dead:

● Jaider Felipe Marulanda, a 43-year-old Lawrenceville resident who’d recently celebrated his 25th wedding anniversary. He was a driver for El Maizal Inc., a food distributor and Penske customer. Marulanda was the only victim who did not work at Penske.

● Van Springer, of Cherokee County. At 59, he was the oldest of the group; one former co-worker likened him to the garage’s “grandfather.” In his own life, he was one.

● Roberto Gonzalez, who was 31 and lived in Dallas in Paulding County. Workers remembered his big smile. Gonzalez died on Wednesday, the day after he was shot.

The wounded, who remained in critical condition:

● Joshua B. Holbrook, 27, of Cartersville. For the people who love him, Holbrook’s shooting compounds a family tragedy. Gonzalez was his brother-in-law.

● Zachariah J. Werner, 35, of Kennesaw. A former co-worker said he was a big sports fan, whose faith in the Lord was a solid as the trucks he serviced.

Warren worked with the four until his employment ended last year, under circumstances Penske officials decline to describe. He worked at the company beginning in 2005.

Penske officials say Warren chose his victims at random, but others aren’t convinced. Some who have posted online or sent e-mails about Warren have suggested he came looking for some of the victims, but police have not confirmed that.

Police arrested Warren less than a mile from the scene of the shootings. They haven’t said much publicly about the alleged gunman, whom they termed a disgruntled former employee. Warren is scheduled for a bond hearing in Cobb courts Feb. 9.

What most people know about Warren is what they’ve seen on TV, in newspapers or on Web sites since the shootings. In a first appearance Wednesday morning, where a judge ordered him held without bond, Warren looked small in his jail-issued orange jumpsuit. He regarded court officials with tired eyes and a weary face.

Public records and interviews flesh him out, but barely. Family members and many acquaintances this week declined to discuss someone who, until Tuesday, was nearly anonymous.

He is married, and lived in a faded-blue frame house surrounded by broken-down cars and a tangle of shrubbery just off Ga. 113. Carroll County records show Warren and his wife, Virginia, missed the Dec. 1 deadline to pay $642.14 in taxes on their home and 44 acres. Other records show a credit card company sued him last year to repay a $4,857.64 bill. That case is pending.

After leaving Penske, he looked for work. He found none.

Police searched his home the night of the killings, according a Cobb police spokesman, and they came out with weapons and ammunition.

‘Like he wasn’t there’

Some who know Warren said he was OK, just scraping to get by in a community where want is a constant resident.

Others weren’t sure. Warren, they said, made them nervous.

“I talked to him [Warren] on a daily basis, and I did not feel comfortable around him, myself,” said David Clark of Marietta, who worked at the Penske truck rental facility from mid-2008 until September.

“We all had opinions as to whether or not he performed satisfactory work,” Clark, 30, said. “As far as his overall demeanor, it just seemed like he wasn’t there.

“He himself may have been at work,” said Clark, “but his mind was not focused on work.”

Tuesday’s violence, Clark said, settled any doubts he had about his former co-worker: “I know he’s off his rocker.”

Boomtown gone bust

According to local history, Draketown got its name about a century ago, when copper miners from Ducktown, Tenn., settled the area a few miles north of Temple to dig for the precious metal. All were men, so locals called them “drakes,” male ducks. The name has lasted, far longer than the mines.

Whatever mining boom Draketown and Temple enjoyed is gone. A 2000 U.S. Census report on the Temple area showed its average per capita income barely topped $15,300 — $6,000 below the state average.

The area appears no wealthier now than then. A Draketown minister and his wife, who operate a food bank, said they distributed groceries to 100 families this past week. Two men and a woman in a pickup truck spent Thursday cutting firewood, hoping someone would buy it.

Customers frequently ask when more goods are coming in to Robinson Discount Grocery, at the intersection of the two highways. They call it the “dent and bent,” a reference to the out-of-date and battered food and household goods the business offers. It’s a place where you can buy a torn bag of charcoal for $2, a one-pound bag of rice for 50 cents.

Warren was a regular at the store, said owner Cheryl Robinson. Some of her customers, she said, complain about anything — the lackluster economy, the lousy car, the lazy husband. Not Warren.

“He just had a sad look,” said Robinson. “If you ask me, he’d worked hard all his life.”

He still wanted to work, said Jeff Peters, owner of Jeff’s Transmissions & More, a Draketown garage. Warren, he said, occasionally visited his shop. The two mechanics enjoyed discussing cars.

“He once asked me if I had any work for him, but I had to say no,” said Peters. Another time, anxious for money, Warren offered to sell him a car lift. Again, Peters declined.

Then Warren lost his job.

“At 60 years old, a man can’t get a job,” said Peters. “A man loses everything, he’s going to go crazy.

“I’m sure the man went off the wall.”

The last stop

Tuesday at noon, the guy at the Draketown Superette said hello back to Warren. Warren approached the counter, paid for a pack of Pall Malls and $15 in gas. He handed over a twenty, pocketed a dollar and some change. The double doors opened on quiet hinges as he left.

Tuesday evening, after the carnage near Kennesaw, store owner Chris Patel stood at the counter where Warren had made his transaction. He turned to a video monitor, connected to security cameras inside and outside the store.

He had to be sure. Patel played back the color images:

The red truck arriving.

The camouflaged man.

The purchase.

The red truck leaving.

In Kennesaw, five men went about their lives. A red truck headed their way.

Staff writer Ralph Ellis contributed to this story.


How we got the story

This report is based on interviews and public-records searches. AJC reporters talked to people in Kennesaw, Marietta and other places in metro Atlanta, and conducted interviews in Temple and Draketown. Reporters also checked courthouse documents as well as police records to compile this article.