Originally created 01/15/99

Trucker charged in teen-ager's abduction

A teen-age suspect in a California slaying called Augusta police Wednesday, claiming a former death-row inmate kept him chained inside a tractor-trailer truck for two months and sexually assaulted him.

The truck driver, 51-year-old Joseph D. Tregeagle, of Salt Lake City, admitted to police after his arrest in Richmond County that he kept 17-year-old Jeremy Michael Kraft chained in the back of his truck after picking him up in Seattle in late November, said Richmond County sheriff's Chief Deputy Ronald Strength. Mr. Tregeagle told investigators he kept Mr. Kraft bound because the teen-ager was wanted on murder charges in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Police believe the two men had a consensual sexual relationship. A murder warrant has been issued in Santa Cruz for Mr. Kraft, investigators confirmed Thursday.

The pair had been traveling and ended up in Augusta this week. Mr. Kraft told investigators he freed himself from Mr. Tregeagle's truck Wednesday morning at Castleberry's on 15th Street and called police to report the kidnapping and assault.

Both Mr. Tregeagle and Mr. Kraft are in custody at the Richmond County

jail. Mr. Tregeagle is charged with kidnapping.

Santa Cruz sheriff's officials are expected to be in Augusta today to positively identify Mr. Kraft and charge him with murder in the slaying of an unidentified man whose body was found in the Santa Cruz Mountains by sightseers in December. The man, between the ages of 17 and 25, probably was slain at least one month before he was found because his body was badly decomposed, authorities say.

Santa Cruz officers are investigating whether that slaying is connected to the November killing of businessman Gaylord Chilcote of Watsonville, about 25 miles from Santa Cruz. Four people already have been arrested in that case. Police said earlier this month that evidence found in a home where three of the suspects lived had been linked to the unidentified man.

Santa Cruz sheriff's Lt. Michael Lillis would not comment on the case because the warrant has been sealed and because Mr. Kraft is 17 years old and is considered a juvenile in California. Mr. Kraft's true identity is in question because when he first called Richmond County police, he gave the name "Jeremy Colmen."

Investigators aren't sure whether Kraft is his real name, but the name on the arrest warrant is Kraft, Chief Deputy Strength said.

Investigators are trying to determine the exact relationship between the two men and when it began, the chief deputy said.

Richmond County's kidnapping charge isn't Mr. Tregeagle's first -- he was arrested in February 1971 in California for kidnapping and engaging in lewd conduct with a minor. In May 1971, also in California, he was arrested on murder charges, convicted and sentenced to death. His death sentence was commuted to life in prison when the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 ruled the death penalty unconstitutional.

Mr. Tregeagle then escaped from a California prison sometime in 1977 and was recaptured in August 1977. In 1988, he was paroled. The California Department of Corrections confirmed Mr. Tregeagle was committed to a state facility July 14, 1971 and was paroled Oct. 15, 1988. A spokesman said he was imprisoned at a California medical facility before serving time at the Correctional and Training Facility in Soledad, Calif.

Meghan Gourley covers crime for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at (706) 823-3227 or mgourley@augustachronicle.com.


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