FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. -- A police major used DNA technology and 25-year-old evidence to link a reputed member of the Dixie Mafia to four execution-style killings committed in metro Atlanta's southern counties in 1977 and 1978.
Carl Millard Patton Jr., a 53-year-old roofer from Locust Grove, was charged with murdering 31-year-old Liddie Evans, who was shot in the head, stuffed in a weighted-down sleeping bag and thrown in the Flint River. Patton likely will be charged in the three other deaths within days, and at least one other arrest may be made, Fayette County Sheriff's Maj. Bruce Jordan said Monday.
"I just stumbled across this," said Jordan, who reopened the investigation in October. "It was something I wanted to go back and look at."
Jordan said he compared DNA samples taken from Evans' family members to evidence found in a police storage locker. Police wouldn't say exactly what kind of DNA led to the arrest - blood, hair, fingernails, bone or bodily fluids - or how it pointed to Patton, who had been a suspect for years.
"We provided the sheriff's office with some items of evidentiary value, which could not be enhanced 25 years ago," said Clayton County Police Chief Darrell Partain. "Using new technology, they were able to be enhanced."
Jordan said he tried to match the DNA gathered from the evidence room to Evans by exhuming her body in December, but it was too decomposed to gather adequate DNA. Instead, he used DNA from her children and husband.
Authorities burst into Patton's house and arrested him Sunday at 6 a.m., bringing him into jail handcuffed and shirtless.
Patton and his wife, Norma, had been arrested two days after Evans' body was found in the river. They were released when no match could be made between blood found in Patton's car trunk and Evans' body.
Along with Evans, Patton is suspected of killing Evans' live-in boyfriend, Joseph Cleveland, 28; Betty Joe Ephlin, 45; and her live-in boyfriend, Fred Wyatt, 45. All four were shot in the head and found in Clayton, Fayette or Butts County.
The killings were tied to fights between lovers and old friendships gone sour, Clayton County police investigator Russell Blankenship told the Atlanta Journal in 1978.
The string of killings started when Wyatt left his companion, Marie Jackson Wyatt, to live with Ephlin, Blankenship said. Patton was a nephew of Marie Wyatt, who has since died.
Patton and his wife were the last people to see Evans and Cleveland alive, Blankenship said. Cleveland and Patton were childhood friends.
Patton claims to be a member of the Dixie Mafia, a loosely knit band of outlaws who got their start in moonshining, Jordan said.
"I think the motive was greed, and I'll just leave it at that," Jordan said.
This was the only unsolved murder in decades in Fayette County under Sheriff Randall Johnson.
"When you work homicide cases, they say you work for God and the families, because bringing closure to them is critically important, and I'm sure they're tremendously relieved and satisfied that this case wasn't ignored or overlooked," said Maj. Joe Reynolds of the Clayton County police.