Carter County Sheriff’s Department investigators are focusing on a “strong suspect or suspects” in the double murder of a Roan Mountain couple late last month.
Preliminary autopsy reports reviewed by investigators on Tuesday reveal that Russell Glen Shell, 54, and Joyce Brock, 61, were shot in the head and set on fire.
“They were indeed shot in the head,” Sheriff Chris Mathes said.
Both victims were shot at close range in the head with an undetermined caliber weapon. “We have some preliminary indications that the female was possibly still alive when she was set on fire,” Mathes said. “She was not dead. That will be confirmed ultimately by the completed autopsy report.”
Investigators have collected a large amount of evidence since the victims were discovered in a metal garage at 120 Hemlock Lane off Hampton Creek Road in Roan Mountain on June 26. Officers are still trying to determine whether the June 26 arson and murder is connected to an earlier June 6 arson on the same property. The couple was living in the garage after their mobile home was destroyed in early June.
“We strongly suspect that they are on-in-the-same,” Mathes said of the incidents.
Evidence is being sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation crime lab. Investigators have also conducted between 40 and 50 interviews and more interviews will be conducted over the next few days and weeks.
“We have a strong suspect or suspects and several leads that we are working on,” Mathes said. “We are attempting to be slow and methodical on purpose so we don’t leave any stone unturned. We obviously hope to make an arrest as soon as possible but we’re not going to get in a hurry so we can do our job.”
In addition, Mathes confirmed that investigators recovered evidence of drugs at the crime scene. Marijuana plants were discovered and removed from the property earlier this week.
The sheriff noted that investigators have much more work to do. “We have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us,” he said.
Although investigators have developed suspects in the case, Mathes said they are open to hearing from other people. “There could always be other people,” he said. “We are willing to listen. We want to interview everybody that we possibly can. The slightest thing can help us.”
He added, “Nobody deserves to die like this. It is our job to put the pieces back together and bring the person or persons to justice. It’s very disturbing to me that she (Brock) could be alive when she was set on fire. We encourage anybody that may know anything to let us know.”
The victims’ bodies were located on the morning of June 26 after a report of fire at the garage. The bodies were taken to the James H. Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University for autopsies. Mathes noted that the autopsies are continuing and final reports may reveal more information into the deaths. The victims had not officially been identified until Tuesday. Last week, a TBI spokesperson said investigators suspected Brock and Shell were the victims.
The couple had been staying in the metal garage after their mobile home was believed to be intentionally set on fire on June 6. In a police report following the June 6 blaze, Deputy Robert Hughes stated that the residents, Shell and Brock, were home at the time of the fire, which was reported at 3:35 a.m.
Shell told Hughes he was watching television when he heard someone attempting to come in the front door. When they could not enter through the front door, they went around to the back door and tried to force it open. Shell said when they were unable to enter the back door he could hear them run across the deck. At that time, Shell said he smelled diesel fuel and saw flames ignite on the deck and across the yard.
The couple then escaped through a bedroom window. Investigators later located a burn consistent with a flammable liquid leading away from the residence. They collected evidence and sent it off to be examined.
A state bomb and arson agent is assisting in the investigation.
Sheriff Mathes urged anyone with information regarding the incidents to contact the CCSD Crimestoppers Hotline at 542-2350 or the main line at 542-1845.