From 2002: Man arrested in theft suspected in 3 killings

Kidnapping case may be linked, too

NOTE: This article originally published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Nov. 14, 2002.

A man arrested two weeks ago on a theft charge is a suspect in at least three murders and a kidnapping in metro Atlanta.

Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington said Tuesday that 25-year-old Howard M. Belcher is the chief suspect in the Oct. 10 deaths of Matthew Abney, 45, of Dallas, Ga., and Mark Schaller, 40, of Atlanta.

Belcher was arrested on a theft charge Oct. 30 in College Park. At the time of his arrest, Belcher was driving a gold 1994 Lexus owned by Artilles McKinney, 35, whose body had been found the day before in Duluth.

"We don't know what the motives are," Pennington said. "There are some similarities in all of these cases."

Because at least four agencies are working on the case — APD, the Paulding Country Sheriff's Department, the Duluth Police Department and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation — Pennington was not specific about what the similarities or possible motives were.

Pennington said Schaller, who was found dead at his home on Dutch Valley Road in northeast Atlanta, was strangled.

Officials in Duluth and Paulding County have not revealed how McKinney and Abney died.

"They were killed. I look at all murders as being brutal and heinous," Pennington said on the method of death.

Pennington did say that each of the victims might have met Belcher in some social setting.

"We don't know if he knew these individuals or if they were friends," Pennington said.

Pennington said Belcher is also a suspect in a February robbery and kidnapping that occurred at Defoor Village Court. In that case, one person was locked in a closet, while another person was forced to withdraw money from an ATM.

The chief said detectives are reviewing all open homicide, robbery and assault cases to see whether there is a link to Belcher.

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