LEXINGTON, S.C. (AP) – Timothy Ray Jones Jr. earned his computer engineering degree, worked at a $71,000-a-year job, had a wife of 10 years and several young children.
Then, just over two years ago, he discovered his wife was putting their children to bed in their South Carolina home and going to the neighbor’s house and sleeping with the neighbor’s 19-year-old son, according to divorce papers. Jones moved out with the children and seemed friendly to his new neighbors, but began to withdraw to the point where the woman who lived next door thought he and his family had moved away.
Jones and his five children, ages 8, 7, 6, 2 and 1, disappeared two weeks ago, but no one called police for days. And authorities weren’t convinced anything was wrong until they said an intoxicated, agitated Jones was stopped at a DUI checkpoint in Mississippi where officers found him alone, with blood and children’s clothes in his SUV and the stench of death in the air.
Jones, 32, would lead investigators to his children’s bodies, wrapped in five trash bags on an isolated Alabama hilltop, but it’s still not clear – and may never be – why he killed his children, authorities said. Authorities in South Carolina said he will face five charges of murder when he returns from Mississippi, perhaps as early as Thursday.
Jones’ father, Timothy Jones Sr., stood outside his Amory, Mississippi, home a day after his grandchildren’s bodies were found, and asked for prayers for his family and for the son he referred to as Little Timmy and Little Tim.
“Let it be known that people will come to their own conclusions and as parents we can understand that decision based on the circumstances,” the father said in a statement. “But please remember that our Little Tim is a very loving father, brother and son.”
That was not the picture painted by Lewis McCarty, the acting sheriff in Jones Jr.’s home of Lexington County, South Carolina. The lawman who started his career on patrol 50 years ago took a second to collect himself as he started to talk to reporters.
“I made a promise to these children’s mother that I would bring these children home. And I was not going to go back on that promise,” McCarty said.
McCarty said the children were likely killed shortly after they were last seen in school and day care on Aug. 28. He didn’t say how they were killed, or where, except that it wasn’t in their home.
Jones put each child’s body in its own trash bag and loaded the bodies into his Cadillac Escalade, McCarty said. He drove hundreds of miles and crisscrossed several Southeastern states for days, apparently using bleach to try to mask the smell of the decomposing bodies, authorities said.
Jones stopped at an isolated hilltop in central Alabama and left them near Pine Apple, 20 miles off Interstate 65 and about 65 miles south of Montgomery, authorities said.
He then kept driving for several more hours Saturday until he reached a DUI checkpoint in Smith County, Mississippi, about 500 miles from his hometown. An officer said he “smelled the stench of death” along with chemicals used to make methamphetamine and synthetic marijuana. There was blood, bleach and maggots in the car.
A check of Jones’ license plate showed his ex-wife had reported him and the children missing three days earlier when he failed to bring them over for visitation. He slowly acknowledged what happened to his children, and led police to their bodies Tuesday, authorities said. Only then did authorities go public with the case.
“We were trying to balance the children and the investigation against the releasing of information,” McCarty said.
South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel said authorities did not issue an Amber Alert because the case didn’t meet the criteria – Jones had legal custody of his children.
Bob Lowery, a vice president at the National Center for Missing Exploited Children, agreed.
“The joint custody issue and his having primary custody does complicate the matter,” Lowery said. “He has every right to have those children.”
Jones graduated with a degree in computer engineering from Mississippi State in 2011. Records from his October 2013 divorce show he was working for Intel at the time and the company confirmed he was still employed there when he disappeared.
The court records also showed a troubled life, both for Jones and his children. The divorce included multiple allegations of adultery against Jones’ wife Amber, including accusations she sneaked over to her neighbor’s home after putting the kids to bed.
A therapist who saw Jones during the divorce described him as “highly intelligent” and responsible, yet emotionally devastated and angry over his wife’s actions.
Jones got primary custody of the five children after the divorce and moved from one ramshackle mobile home to another in Lexington. At first he was friendly and waved at neighbors and his children played outside. But they all slowly started disappearing from view, said neighbor Dorothy Wood.
“I didn’t even hear them playing outside anymore. I thought they had moved,” Wood said.
In Lexington, there was an abuse complaint against Jones lodged on Aug. 7, but when deputies and an official with the Department of Social Services went out to the house, they interviewed the children and didn’t see anything to alarm them. Officials wouldn’t say who made the complaint.
Divorce records listed the five children as Merah, 8; Elias, 7; Nahtahn, 6; Gabriel, 2, and Elaine Marie, 1. Elaine Marie was born Abagail Elizabeth but the parents agreed to a name change, records show.
The children’s mother, Jones’ ex-wife, is in shock and distraught, McCarty told reporters.
“I want you to know that she lost five vital body parts,” he said. “A very nice person, a very sweet lady.”
A memorial service will be held for the children in Amory on Friday.
Reeves reported from Pine Apple, Alabama. Associated Press writers Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi; Adrian Sainz in Amory, Mississippi; Martha Waggoner in Raleigh, North Carolina; and Seanna Adcox and Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.
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