GRANT BLANKENSHIP/THE TELEGRAPH A patch of irises in front of an abandoned house on Zebulon Road in Monroe County mark the spot where Trevorius Thomas, 21, was shot and killed on January 27.
Part one of two:
A young man was dead in the leaves beneath a pecan tree.
For four days, his body lay face up on some irises near a patch of wild daffodils just off the porch of a mud-colored, Depression-era house.
More of a shack now, the house is being plowed under by nature, shrouded in privet, all but invisible to passers-by.
The crumbling dwellings last resident, a woman in her 80s, had lived there on Zebulon Road for ages with no running water. She moved away more than a decade ago. In the remains of the front yard, theres a smashed Sylvania television set, a 1978 model, near the spot where the young man from Macon bled out.
The homestead is wreathed in vines, blended into the brush and rolling timberland of southern Monroe County. Hardwoods, pines and pastures stretch due south for roughly two and a half miles, down to the tip of Lake Tobesofkee.
Subdivisions and a handful of million-dollar estates have sprung up in recent years. Some who move there do so to escape urban ills. They tolerate the deer eating their flowers and take refuge in the wide open.
Though the area is minutes from a movie theater, strip malls, a freeway, it is country to the bone. Folks there can hear half a dozen shotgun blasts in a row, in the middle of the day, and hardly flinch. Much less call the law.
On the last Friday afternoon in January, some builders framing a house in a gated neighborhood heard booms -- gunfire.
The shots thundered through the trees from about 75 yards away.
It was the sound of a killing.
Trevorius Thomas was dead under a pecan tree.
* * *
Trevorius had called his father earlier that day.
It was late morning. Sam Thomas was still in bed. Trevorius said he was about to ride out to Monroe County with someone he knew. Trevorius didnt say where they were going or why. But Trevorius said he and the person had gone places before.
Ill be all right, 21-year-old Trevorius said.
Trevorius lived with friends in the Mobile World trailer park on Forest Place, in back of a Burger King along Interstate 475, across the road from Macon State College.
Sam and Trevorius mother never married. Trevorius was raised by his mother and grandmother. Still, he and Sam were close. Trevorius, pronounced Trev-are-us, was Sams baby boy, the youngest of four sons. Trevorius kept the rest of the family connected. But as Friday wore on, no one heard from him.
By nightfall Sunday, there was still no word. Sam was worried.
When Sam Thomas graduated from Macons Central High School in 1984, he was a 6-foot-5, 265-pound football tight end. He said he could gallop 100 yards in a blink under 10 seconds. The Georgia Bulldogs wanted him, but he chose a smaller school, Morgan State University in Baltimore. His nickname was Big Winslow. Folks considered him a chunkier version of future NFL Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow. Sam played at Morgan State for a season. He quit.
I got caught up in the streets, he said.
He got hooked on crack. He went to prison three different times in the 1990s -- for five and a half years in all -- for theft by receiving, shoplifting, cocaine possession.
Sam, now 47, has driven dairy trucks, managed a lumber yard, built countertops. These days he is 100 pounds heavier than he was in college. He renovates houses. He quit doing drugs and smoking cigarettes in fall 2009, around the time his mother died.
She was my backbone, he said. I knew I had to become a man for myself.
Despite his shortcomings, Sam said he always tried to be there for his kids. And on the last Sunday night in January, Sam was there for Trevorius.
Sam, in the TV room at his house on a quiet corner in south Macon, grabbed his cell phone. He had no idea what had become of his youngest son, but he was going to find out.
* * *
Trevorius could dunk a basketball by the time he was 14.
It was about then that he joined a traveling team that practiced at a school gym in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood, not far from where he lived with his grandmother. He wasnt the best player, but he made an impression on the coach.
Mike Hardnett, a Boeing aircraft mechanic who played for coaching legend Don Richardson at Southwest High in the 1970s, coaches summer-league hoops. He says he caters to players at risk of being lost in the street.
I dont like to say a kid was hanging with the wrong crowd. I dont say that. Theyre hanging with who they want to hang with, Hardnett said.
He preaches the one-minute rule to players. The rule has nothing to with basketball. Before you do anything, the rule goes, take one minute and think about it. It might save you.
Hardnett, 53, said Trevorius listened.
I felt like he respected me so much. He was almost scared of me, Hardnett said. What stood out about Trevorius was that all the people he was around were well-behaved. He was a young fellow that was trying to do better.
Trevorius was jailed in the predawn hours of Dec. 31, charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession and trespassing. In his mug shot, he had a goatee, a mustache. He looked tired, almost frowning. It was 4:30 a.m. He had on a gray polo shirt with the top button buttoned.
His bail was $2,600, but he stayed in the Bibb County lockup for nearly three weeks. On Jan. 18, the charges were dropped. Trevorius was set free when the cop whod arrested him didnt show up in court.
As a boy, Trevorius lived south of downtown Macon on Knott Street, not far from Burke Elementary School. When he was 4 or 5, he met Michael Jones, his stepfathers nephew. They have been best friends since.
Jones, now a sophomore at Albany State University, said he and Trevorius played basketball almost every day. Jones said Trevorius liked to crack on people, make fun of the way they looked or dressed. You couldnt be a soft, sensitive person. You had to be able to take his jokes.
They attended McEvoy Middle School together, but in high school Jones went to Southwest. Trevorius went to Westside. Jones graduated in 2009. Trevorius dropped out in the 11th grade.
Trevorius worked for a while at the Krystal across from Macon Mall, but lately he didnt have a regular job. He sometimes cleaned floors for his grandmothers janitorial service.
He liked to dress in colors, Jones said -- orange shirts, purple shirts, you name it -- and he liked the rapper Gucci Mane.
And he loved Hamburger Helper, Jones said. Trevorius could whip up a batch with a pound of beef in 10 minutes flat and, at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, wolf it down himself.
Ive never seen anybody be able to make Hamburger Helper that fast, Jones said. He wasnt about sharing it either.
Trevorius had a baby girl named Harmony. She turns 2 next month. Trevorius had her name tattooed on a winged cross on his chest.
Sam Thomas wasnt happy when Trevorius quit high school.
Trevorius had lived with Sam for a time before he quit, and Sam laid down the law. He told Trevorius, You gonna go to school or youre gonna whoop me.
Trevorius went back to living with his mother.
Later, Trevorius returned to Sams place. For a night.
Sam had a new rule: Every day I go to work, you got to go look for a job.
Sam said, I was trying to instill good values in him.
* * *
On the evening of Jan. 29, a Sunday, Sam got a call from Trevorius mother, Stephanie Smith. She wanted to know if Sam had heard from Trevorius.
Sam hadnt, but he mentioned having talked to Trevorius on Friday morning. Smith told Sam none of Trevorius friends had seen him either.
Smith, however, mentioned that someone Trevorius lived with saw him ride off on Friday with a guy named Stephen Lober.
Chris Coleman, Trevorius roommate, would later say that Trevorius, before heading out that Friday, had told him, Im headed to Monroe County, but that Trevorius didnt say why.
Coleman said when Trevorius didnt return, I didnt think nothing of it. Coleman assumed Trevorius was off with friends.
Coleman remembered that it was kind of suspicious, though, when Lober returned to the trailer the next day, Jan. 28, a Saturday, looking for Trevorius.
Lober, Coleman recalled, mentioned last seeing Trevorius the day before when Lober said he had given Trevorius a pound of weed.
If Trevorius had been going to get a pound of weed, Coleman said, hed have told us.
The dark-haired Lober, a baby-faced 20-year-old with thick eyebrows and starter whiskers, is a Rutland High graduate. Hes also an Eagle Scout. His Facebook page says hes into Katy Perry and that he likes the movie Buddy the Elf.
Lober grew up on a dirt road, walking distance from the upper reaches of Lake Tobesofkee. He was still living at his parents house just off Lower Thomaston Road. Theres a treehouse in the corner of the yard. You can hear chickens in the distance.
Sam Thomas does not know how his son knew Lober.
He had given Trevorius rides before, Sam said. Trevorius would pay for gas.
That Sunday night, Trevorius mother gave Lobers phone number to Sam. Sam called and spoke to Lobers 62-year-old father, Bill, in what Sam said would be the first in a series of Sunday night phone calls.
At one point, Sam said he told Bill Lober, My son was with yours, and my son is missing.
I told him, Something has happened with our children, Sam recalled.
Sam has since shared with authorities what he says was discussed in his calls to Bill Lober, who declined to be interviewed for this story.
Sam said Bill Lober, after talking to his son, Stephen, told Sam to get in touch with a guy who used to work with Stephen at Locos Grill & Pub in Macon.
Sam hung up and called the fellow. Sam informed Stephens former co-worker that he was looking for his son. Sam told the co-worker that hed heard Trevorius had been with him on Friday.
Before long, Sam said, the former co-worker was in tears because he was getting put in something he wasnt about.
Sam said the co-worker said he wanted to call the Lobers and find out what was up. Sam waited a while and called Bill Lober back.
Sam recalls Bill Lober saying, Stephen told me a lie, and telling Sam that now Stephen was claiming someone else, another young man, could tell Sam more about Trevorius whereabouts.
His name was Kyle Dougherty.
* * *
Sam called Dougherty. After he answered, Sam recalls telling the 21-year-old Dougherty, I dont know what yall did to my son.
Dougherty and Stephen Lober were childhood friends. They became Eagle Scouts together. They graduated from Rutland in 2009.
Dougherty lived with his parents in a blue house near Sardis Church Road, around the bend from Boy Scout Road, which leads to Byron.
In the past year, Dougherty quit his job as an electricians helper. A friend of his said he drove to a school in Atlanta once a week to learn computer animation. The friend said Dougherty, who has wavy, reddish hair and a goatee, likes hard rock and Batman movies.
On Doughertys Facebook page, next to activities and interests, the listings include: Get Drunk, Cannabis, Playing Video Games.
Next to his Facebook description for Basic Information About Kyle is a sentence that reads: Dont f@$# with me and i wont f@*$ with you.
Ryan Tidwell, who went to Rutland with Dougherty from middle school on, said, Im pretty sure if you did F with him, he still wouldnt do anything. Hed probably just walk away. He wasnt a confrontational person. At all.
Tidwell, 20, a student at Central Georgia Technical College, had also been friends with Lober. But after high school, Tidwell only saw Lober occasionally.
Tidwell still hung out with Dougherty. Theyd play Halo online and watch movies at Doughertys house.
Were nerds, Tidwell said. We talked about superheroes.
Tidwell said Lober used to work at Food Lion. Tidwell said last he heard Lober worked gathering scrap metal.
Stephen started doing stuff that was wrong and pretty bad that he could get messed up in, Tidwell said. But because Kyle and him were such good friends, Kyle was always there to tag along. You know, you dont throw away your friends. You try to help them out.
Last summer, Dougherty told Tidwell how hed met this really nice girl on Facebook, but that she was stuck in England and couldnt get a plane ticket home. Dougherty told Tidwell hed sent the girl $500. But it was a scam. Dougherty was duped.
I was like, Dude, you dont do that, Tidwell recalled. He said, Yeah, I know. Now that I think about it, it was pretty stupid.
Tidwell said, Hes really nice. Hell absolutely do anything if he thinks someones honest and theyre his friend. Hed go out of his way. ... If you didnt know Kyle, Im sure you would think he was weird and kind of a loner. But if you were in his group of friends, you would know that he is probably one of the nicest people. ... Really kind, genuine, honest.
Doughertys last Facebook wall post was Sunday afternoon, Jan. 29, in the hours before Sam Thomas dialed his number. It read: these are dark times indeed, when those you call your friends turn out to be the same as those you constantly have to be on the lookout for.
Later, on the phone, Sam said Dougherty told him, Stephen is telling yall stories.
Wheres my son? Sam said.
Sam said Dougherty kept telling him, Im sorry.
For what? Sam wanted to know.
Sam said all Dougherty would say was, Stephens gonna have to tell you.
* * *
It was after midnight. Now it wasnt just a missing mans worried parents calling to ask Lober and Dougherty questions about their 21-year-old sons whereabouts. The police were on the line.
At 12:38 a.m. on Jan. 30, Macon police officer Adrian Ussery was dispatched to the house where Trevorius Thomas grandmother lives on Monroe Street. The place sits north of Georgia Avenue, down the hill from the citys main post office.
The officer was there because Trevorius family had decided it was time to report him missing. While Ussery was at the house, Trevorius mother, Stephanie Smith, called Lober and handed the phone to Ussery. In his report, Ussery wrote that Lober told him about a pound of marijuana that Trevorius was going to sell for (Lober). He stated that his friend Kyle wanted to make some money off of the deal.
Ussery noted in the report that Lober said Trevorius had been taken to a dilapidated house off of Zebulon Rd out in the country to meet another guy whom he stated was old school to make the transaction. Mr. Lober stated this was the last time he heard from Trevarius (sic).
Then Trevorius mother called Dougherty. She again gave the phone to Ussery.
Kyle stated, Ussery wrote in his report, that he and Stephen were at a dilapidated old house off of Zebulon Rd ... where Stephen received a call from Trevarius (sic) stating he didnt have a ride.
Ussery wrote that Dougherty told him hed stayed at the house while Lober drove to pick up Trevorius. The officer reported that after Trevorius and Lober returned, Dougherty and Lober left the house alone. Usserys report makes no mention of where Trevorius went.
Ussery, however, did note that Dougherty said hed dropped Lober off at his house and that Dougherty then headed home himself to get a shower and change clothes for a date he had that night.
It was a rare episode. Here was a lost mans mother handing her phone to the cops after calling the men who would, in the next 36 hours, become suspects in her sons death.
Read the conclusion with Part 2 online, or read Monday's Telegraph.