Prosecutor: Alleged Craigslist killer tried to prey on others

EASTMAN — A Middle Georgia man charged with killing a retired Marietta couple earlier this year in an apparent ruse using the online marketplace Craigslist may have tried to prey on other victims.

Ronnie “Jay” Towns, fired from his job at a tree-removal service in January and desperate for money, bought a throw-away cellphone and began contacting people interested in buying cars and other merchandise, a prosecutor here said Friday.

The new details emerged at a hearing in Dodge County Superior Court, where Towns was seeking bond.

Judge H. Frederick Mullis Jr.’s subsequent ruling to deny bond was not unexpected in a case that — due in large part to its connection to the popular Internet site — has made headlines around the globe.

Towns, 28, was jailed Jan. 26, the day Elrey “Bud” Runion and his wife, June, turned up dead with gunshot wounds to the head.

Towns, who is being held in Eastman, the site of Friday’s hearing, faces charges that include malice murder, felony murder and armed robbery.

He is accused of killing June Runion, who was 66, and Bud Runion, 69, when the Cobb County pair traveled Jan. 22 to meet someone about buying a vintage car near the south-Telfair hamlet of Jacksonville. Bud Runion had posted a Craigslist ad because he was looking to buy a 1966 Ford Mustang.

Authorities believe Towns fooled the Runions into thinking such a car was for sale.

Prosecutor Joshua Powell, in arguing why Towns might be a flight risk, suggested that Towns eluded capture after the deaths by hiding in the woods overnight. The prosecutor said Towns had earlier tried to camouflage the Runions’ bodies with brush and debris to cover his tracks.

Powell then added that Towns, before the Runions were slain, “was also communicating with other individuals trying to arrange for them to come and see vehicles that he did not possess.”

The Runions’ bodies were found along a dirt road not far from where Towns’ parents live on a 300-acre farm south of McRae-Helena in rural Telfair County. The slain couple’s 2003 GMC Envoy was ditched in a nearby pond.

Records apparently indicate the couple was in contact with someone on a cellphone that Towns had recently purchased.

“The cellphone that was used to communicate with the Runions was a TracFone. ... Mr. Jay Towns had a personal cellphone, but instead decided to buy this second telephone to contact the Runions,” Powell said.

The prosecutor said the GBI has learned that the same cellphone used to call the Runions was used to call people seeking antique cars and other items online.

Powell said Towns was “in contact with multiple other individuals concerning (them) coming to Telfair County, the same address that was given to the Runions, to look at other vehicles.”

Members of the Runion family didn’t attend Friday’s proceeding, but nearly four dozen of Towns’ relatives, including his father and brother, and friends were on hand. The lean Towns, in a jailhouse jumpsuit, did not appear to acknowledge them as he strode in wearing handcuffs.

His attorney, Franklin J. Hogue of Macon, asked that Towns’ handcuffs be removed before the half-hour hearing. Dodge County Sheriff Lynn Sheffield declined the request.

Towns sat at the defense table throughout the hearing and was never called on to speak.

Hogue said afterward that Towns’ being denied bond didn’t surprise him.

“I’m not shocked,” he said.

“I respect the decision. ... We wished he’d gotten a bond. It’s gonna be a long time till trial. These cases can take 18 to 24 months to get to trial sometimes.”

Hogue said Towns was “prepared for today. ... He’s gonna do OK. ... He’s holding up.”

Towns is scheduled to be arraigned June 25. That will be the deadline for prosecutors to declare whether they will pursue the death penalty.

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.