(TUNICA COUNTY, Miss.) — The man arrested in connection with two Mississippi highway murders was linked to the crimes after he allegedly kidnapped and raped a woman who managed to get away and contact police.
James D. Willie, 28, was arrested Tuesday morning on rape and aggravated assault charges when Tunica County police responded to an apartment where a disturbance was reported. When they arrived, a woman said that Willie raped her.
Police found a Ruger 9mm, semi-automatic handgun in his possession during the arrest, which investigators later determined matched the weapon used in last week’s shootings.
The motive for the alleged shootings were “drugs and robbery,” authorities said at a news conference Friday. Cops would not confirm or deny if Willie was under the influence of drugs at the time of the crimes.
Willie was charged with kidnapping, rape, felony possession of a firearm and the murder of Lori Carswell, police said. Charges for the murder of Tom Schlender are still pending.
Authorities initially thought the shooter was posing as a police officer to get people to stop on highways on the northern part of the state, but have since backed away from that theory.
“We can’t confirm or deny if the car was already parked, if he ran across her or if he flashed her [with lights] to get her to pull over,” Tunica County Sheriff K.C. Hamp said referring to Carswell.
Schlender, 74, from Nebraska, was found in his car on Interstate 55 in Panola County on May 8 about 1:30 a.m. Three days later, Carswell, 48, from Mississippi, was found near her car on Highway 713 in nearby Tunica County about 2:15 a.m.
“We did interview [Willie] last night and in the early morning hours,” Hamp said. “He’s been cooperative to a certain extent. We didn’t get a confession directly, but we got a lot of information.”
Schlender’s family told ABC News that his wallet was missing. Police will not say whether Carswell was robbed, but said her purse, cell phone and wallet were in her car, but the wallet was empty.
Willie, who has an extensive criminal record, has previously spent eight years in prison for burglary charges.
The fear that a killer was posing as a cop to get his victims to pull over had prompted police in Mississippi to warn motorists to not stop if being flashed by police late at night. Instead, the department advised they call 911 to help decide whether the call behind them was really a police car.
If it wasn’t a police car, the cops would send help.
Willie is being held in jail without bond and is expected to make his first court appearance on Monday.
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