The nationwide search for a 26-year-old Georgia man accused of killing five people ended Monday night with his arrest at a Mississippi bus station. And it was a pastor trying to help the man that led police to the murder suspect.
Thomas Jesse Lee was arrested in Tupelo, Miss., about 300 miles from the LaGrange-area home where he lived and allegedly killed five people, including his wife, the Troup County Sheriff’s Office said. The victims, who ranged in age from 16 to 69 years old, also included Lee’s step-daughter, mother-in-law, father-in-law and a family friend, according to police.
The arrest came one day after arrest warrants were issued for Lee. As the search intensified to find him, a pastor in Mississippi was trying to help a man found asleep under a church awning, the sheriff’s office said in an emailed statement late Monday.
“Not knowing at (the) time who Lee was, the church offered to help him, and he told them he was trying to get back to Opelika, Alabama,” Sgt. Stewart Smith said. “The church bought Lee a bus ticket and took him to the nearest bus station, which was located in Tupelo.”
But Monday, the pastor saw a media report and recognized Lee’s picture, Smith said. The pastor called police, who located Lee at a bus station. He was arrested without incident and is expected to be extradited to Georgia, where he has been charged with five counts of murder.
Late Saturday, Troup deputies were called to a home on Woodstream Trail in the Water’s Edge subdivision for a welfare check because one of the victims hadn’t shown up for work for a few days. Inside the home, investigators made the gruesome discovery. Everyone who lived inside the home was dead, except for Lee.
Smith identified those killed as: William Burtron, 69; Sheila Burtron, 68; Christie Lee, around 33, Bailey Burtron, 16; and Iiaonna Green, 18.
Authorities said four of the five victims were shot to death, but no weapon was located. The GBI is conducting autopsies on the five killed, Smith said.
Late Monday, two Troup deputies were en route to Mississippi to interview Lee.
— Staff writers Mike Morris and Katie Leslie contributed to this report.