Originally created 06/30/00

Suspect arrested in death

The man who police say killed Franklin Reid and dumped his body into an abandoned well was a friend to the 60-year-old cancer patient.

On Thursday, 19-year-old Rodney Willingham, of 330 Beehive Drive, was sitting in the Columbia County Detention Center, charged with murder in the man's stabbing death.

"It was shocking for me to find out that somebody close like that, his neighbor, could do something like that," said Mr. Reid's sister, Minniebell Elam. "Everybody wants to know why did he do it."

Police say they suspect the motive was robbery. Family members said Mr. Reid was known to carry large amounts of money. His wallet was found empty near the well.

Capt. Steve Morris of the sheriff's department said money was recovered in two locations, but he would not say how much or where.

Authorities linked Mr. Willingham to the crime scene through a kitchen knife found Tuesday next to Mr. Reid's body at the bottom of a well off Tom Bartles Road, Capt. Morris said.

"(Mr. Willingham) lived right down below my brother," Mrs. Elam said. "He knew him. They were friends. His dad used to share a ride with (Mr. Reid)."

Mr. Reid rented his home from one of Mr. Willingham's relatives.

Mr. Willingham has previous arrests, including a charge of aggravated assault in December in which he was accused of trying to stab his father with a kitchen knife. He also was arrested in May 1998 on charges of possession of alcohol by a minor and throwing rocks at vehicles along Cobbham Road.

Investigators are unsure whether Mr. Willingham will be the only person arrested in Mr. Reid's death.

"Although an arrest has been made, the case remains open, and we have not ruled out additional arrests," Capt. Morris said.

An autopsy, conducted at the state crime lab in Atlanta, determined Mr. Reid had been stabbed several times in the chest. The body was wrapped in bed sheets and driven to the well, where a three-day search ended Tuesday.

Capt. Morris said investigators found Mr. Reid - buried under a large tire, a bicycle and a bucket weighted down with a rock, boards and dirt - after an anonymous caller suggested they search the Tom Bartles Road area.

Mr. Reid was last seen by Ms. Elam at about 5:30 p.m.June 23 at his residence. When deputies arrived at Mr. Reid's residence Saturday, they found blood spots on a wall in a hallway. Blood also was found splattered above Mr. Reid's bed, and the bed had been stripped of the covers and sheets.

Mr. Reid had been battling lung cancer for some time, and it had spread to his brain.

Although the family is grieving, the arrest has provided some comfort, Ms. Elam said.

"We feel a little bit better," she said. "At least they got one in custody."

Reach Ashlee Griggs and Preston Sparks at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 109.


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