Convicted murderer indicted in 1989 Warner Robins killing

bpurser@macon.comApril 22, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS — Authorities say they've solved a 25-year-old cold case in Warner Robins.

James Milton Happoldt, a 60-year-old inmate serving a life sentence in a Georgia prison for the murder of his ex-wife, was indicted Tuesday in connection with the 1989 double homicide.

The indictment was announced at a news conference between the Houston County District Attorney’s Office and the Warner Robins Police Department.

“It makes us very proud that we have the detectives through the years that have diligently worked on cases like this — that they don’t just get placed on a shelf to collect dust — that they are assigned out, and they are worked,” police Chief Brett Evans said.

Happoldt, who was living in Middle Georgia at the time of the killings, was indicted on two counts of malice murder and two counts of felony murder.

On March 26, 1989, James Runyon, 36, and Dan Easler, 37, were found dead on a Sunday afternoon in a wood shop behind a home in the 200 block of Sunset Drive. Runyon had been shot in the head and arm. Easler was shot in the back and chest.

Neighbor Pierce Cumpton found their bodies in the one-room shop about 4:15 p.m.

The door was open, the lights were on and the stereo was playing. When Cumpton reached to turn the stereo off, he saw one of the men’s feet on the floor.

“Frankly, it just looked like somebody walked in, shot them and left,” Cumpton told The Telegraph in 1989.

Runyon, an experienced woodworker at Robins Air Force Base, owned the blue and cream colored house and the shop behind it. He’d recently started living in west Houston County.

The men had been working late in the shop preparing for the upcoming Mossy Creek Arts and Crafts Show. Runyon, who had participated in 17 Mossy Creek shows prior to his death, made folding wooden chairs, end tables, shelves, boxes and University of Georgia plaques.

Easler’s wife reported he had not called or come home Saturday night. Neighbors reported hearing noises in the middle of the night, but thought they were hearing firecrackers.

Nothing was disturbed in the shop, which housed woodworking tools, tables, saws and other equipment.

‘This case has been solved’

At Tuesday’s news conference, the late Warner Robins police Detective Jimmy Yoho was credited with conducting an extensive investigation into the case in 1989. Detective Brad Mules was credited with moving the case forward.

District Attorney George Hartwig said police brought him the case file after revisiting the investigation. Police did some follow-up and re-interviewed a number of people who are still around, he said.

If there was a specific key, or piece of evidence, that unlocked the cold case, Hartwig wouldn’t say. He also declined to elaborate on the facts of the case.

“I’m not going to talk specifically about evidence or key evidence or anything like that,” Hartwig said. “Obviously, when we deal with evidence in the DA’s office, we deal with evidence in court. We present it to a jury in court, so we’re going to save discussions of evidence for then.”

Hartwig said he does not expect any other arrests in connection with the double homicide.

“I believe at this point this case has been solved with the indictment of this individual,” he said.

In August 1994, Happoldt was convicted of killing his ex-wife and wounding his son in a March 3, 1994, ambush attack. He shot 39-year-old Janice Buice three times as she and their 14-year-old son drove into the garage of her home in north Monroe County. Happoldt and Buice had argued over child support earlier in the day.

The Georgia Supreme Court upheld the malice murder and aggravated assault convictions in 1996. Happoldt is serving his life sentence in the Coffee County Correctional Facility in Nicholls. He is expected to be brought to Houston County to stand trial, Hartwig said.

The 1989 double homicide marks four of 13 cold cases recorded since 1969 that have been cleared, according to police. The remaining cases are assigned to detectives.

Writer Joe Kovac Jr. contributed to this report, which also contains information from Telegraph archives. To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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