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Body of missing Longview man found; two charged with kidnapping, capital murder

By Richard Yeakley
Dec. 20, 2012 at 11 p.m.

Ronnie Joe Gammage never met a stranger, his family said, and had an almost childlike trust in others that may have made him easy prey.

The gentle giant was reported missing Dec. 8; his beaten, burned body was found late Wednesday in rural Upshur County.

On Thursday, Sarah Haslam, 20, and Daniel Jones, 19, both of Longview, were charged with aggravated kidnapping and capital murder in connection with Gammage's death. A third capital murder warrant was issued for an unidentified person whom police say also played a role in Gammage's death.

Haslam and Jones were each held Thursday in the Gregg County Jail on bonds of $1.3 million.

Gammage, who stood 6 feet, 8 inches tall and weighed about 265 pounds, was functional but mentally slow, his family said. Those whose paths crossed his said Gammage was peaceful, kind and friendly.

His family said Gammage lived by himself in Parkway Gardens apartments in Longview, drew disability payments and lived a simple life.

He was a person of routine. Rebecca Sheppard, an employee at Roadrunner Superette on Judson Road, a convenience store Gammage visited nearly every day, said she was stunned by his death. She remembered the 27-year-old as a "pretty nice guy."

"He was always kind to me," Sheppard said. "I never thought anyone would want to hurt him."

Gammage always wore T-shirts and jeans or Western wear and refused to buy the same kind of cigarette each day. Each day's pack was a new flavor or brand, she said.

Betty Cannon remembered her cousin as loving and determined.

"He would help anybody and was always in a good mood," she said. "And even though he was slow, he had an excellent memory ... He loved country music ... If a song came on he could tell you the name, artist, year."

His peaceful life apparently ended Nov. 29 outside the store where he shopped daily when he was mugged - threatened and robbed - by three unidentified people. Gammage later filed a report telling police the trio had taken his wallet. Employees of the convenience store said police watched surveillance video, but it was inconclusive. The three people who robbed Gammage could not be identified.

The next Tuesday, Haslam, Jones and two other people tried to cash a check Gammage had given them "to return property stolen from him by other parties," said Kristie Brian, Longview police spokeswoman. She said it was not clear if the stolen property was the wallet taken the previous week.

But the day after Gilmer National Bank refused to cash the $400 check because of insufficient funds, police say four people confronted Gammage at Waffle House on East Loop 281 in Longview, slashing a tire on his truck.

Gammage was then lured into Haslam's car, according to statements from suspects and investigators.

"They told Gammage they would take him to get a tire. Instead they took Gammage to a location off of Loop 281 ... at this location, Jones said he and the other two began beating Gammage using their feet and hands," wrote Longview police Sgt. Darin Lair in the affidavit for probable cause in Jones' arrest.

"The suspects feared they would be seen by passing motorists, so they placed Gammage back into Haslam's car against his will where he was not free to leave," wrote Detective David Cheatham in an affidavit for Haslam's arrest.

With Haslam driving, the three drove with Gammage near the intersection of Martin Lane and Mockingbird Road southeast of Gilmer in rural Upshur County, where they made Gammage get out and walk to the middle of an open field.

"He was made to sit on the ground and he was, again, beaten," Cheatham wrote. Haslam said she went back to the car, leaving Gammage with Jones and the other unidentified person.

Lair, writing of Jones' statement, said, "(Jones) took out a knife and cut Gammage's throat, which he believed killed him." Jones then poured gasoline on Gammage's body and set it on fire.

On Dec. 8, after not hearing from her son for four days, Gammage's mother, Frankie Gammage, reported her son missing.

On Wednesday, police released surveillance video from the Dec. 4 drive-thru bank visit, asking the public for help identifying the people in the car. Police said they were flooded with tips that led to interviews with Jones and Haslam.

Frankie Gammage said Thursday she drew comfort knowing her son had been found.

"I am just glad they found him. It's not over, but at least we know what happened to him," she said.



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