JACKSON, Miss. – Authorities in Mississippi said early Friday they have arrested a suspect in two fatal highway shootings that happened late at night along desolate stretches.
James D. Willie, 28, was being held on charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault and rape and would be formally charged with two counts of capital murder, Mississippi Department of Public Safety spokesman Warren Strain told The Associated Press.
Willie was being held at the Tunica County jail in north Mississippi.
Willie had not been posing as a police officer in the shootings as authorities previously thought, Strain said.
Willie was arrested Tuesday morning when authorities responded to a disturbance at an apartment. Tunica police found Willie with a woman who claimed he had raped her, a news release said. When Willie was arrested, authorities found a 9mm Ruger in his possession. Ballistic testing later found that it was the same gun used in the two highway shootings, authorities said.
Strain said Willie is a convicted felon, but he did not have details about his previous arrests.
Thomas Schlender, 74, of Raymond, Neb., was found dead in his car on Interstate 55 in Panola County on May 8 around 1:30 a.m. Lori Anne Carswell, 48, of Hernando, Miss. was found dead near her car on Mississippi Highway 713 in nearby Tunica County about 2:15 a.m. on May 11.
Strain said authorities developed several theories during the investigation and one of those was that someone could be posing as an officer to pull people over because there was no apparent reason for the victims to pull over.
“If we’re going to err, we’re going to err on the side of public safety,” Strain said. “The fact is that we got him off the street and people can go back to a level of comfort.”
Strain said it’s too early in the investigation to release details of how or why the motorists were on the side of the roads. He also declined to give a possible motive for the shootings.
Carswell just left work from Fitzgerald’s Casino, also known as the Fitz Casino, in Tunica County when she was killed, authorities have said. Schlender’s was driving from Nebraska to Florida to pick up his grandson, authorities said.
Shell casings were found at the scene of both shootings, authorities have said.
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