Homer Ridley III, who was indicted last week on charges of drowning his next-door neighbor in a bathtub 21 years ago, has been on police radar for that crime for years.
The former Centerville meter reader also was indicted in another killing -- the 1992 slaying of his sister-in-law in Hawkinsville -- and he is now serving a life sentence for a brutal rape.
The investigation of the two killings eventually linked him to the rape from 1988, officials have said.
Neither of the slayings ever made it to a jury.
All three crimes involved young women Ridley knew. All the victims were bound with cords. And all the attacks happened with young children in the homes.
Telegraph archives and court records, along with recent interviews, were used in the following accounts of the crimes.
WARNER ROBINS SLAYING
On Dec. 1, 1994, the partially clad body of 20-year-old Summer Gleaton was found in the bathtub of her Terry Street mobile home in Warner Robins.
She had been drowned, her hands bound behind her back and her feet tied together. She was on her back in the tub when police found her after a relative requested a welfare check.
Gleaton’s live-in boyfriend, a truck driver, initially was suspected but was later cleared. She had recently placed a restraining order against him, and the two had fought the morning of her death. He’d smashed the phone, and she had gone to the home of her next-door neighbor -- Ridley -- to call for help.
Her body was discovered later that afternoon about 3:30 p.m. Her 6-month-old child, who was in the home, was unharmed.
Ridley was named a suspect by Warner Robins police but was not charged for nearly 21 years. He was indicted Tuesday by a Houston County grand jury.
Perry Police Chief Steve Lynn, who was head of the Warner Robins Police Department’s criminal investigations division in 1994, remembers the case but didn’t work on it personally.
“(Ridley) was a suspect, but we didn’t have enough evidence at that time to move the case forward,” Lynn said.
Warner Robins police detective Andrew Chratian, who was the lead investigator, has since died.
Last week, District Attorney George Hartwig declined to say what led officials to charge Ridley in the two-decades-old case. He also declined to talk about the facts surrounding the killing.
Lt. Scott McSwain, the lead detective on the case now, and Jennifer Parson, the department’s public information officer, referred all requests for comment to Hartwig.
Ridley is expected to be transferred from the Calhoun State Prison in Morgan within 30 days to be booked at the Houston County jail on one count of malice murder and two counts of felony murder in Gleaton’s death, Hartwig said.
A little more than two years before Gleaton’s death, Ledia Olivera’s best friend and the friend’s boyfriend discovered Olivera’s partially dressed body on the floor in the bathroom of a home she shared with Teresa Brown in Hawkinsville.
Olivera, who was 19, and Brown’s nephew were engaged and had a daughter. The girl was 5 months old when her mother was slain.
Her nephew was stationed at a U.S. Army base in Texas, and Brown was at work at a beauty salon when Olivera was raped, strangled and her head hammered repeatedly against the bathroom sink. Olivera’s body was found Sept. 5, 1992, in her home, her hands and ankles bound.
Pulaski County Sheriff Billy Cape, who was a deputy at the time, recalled that Olivera’s body was on its side behind the bathroom door, making it difficult to open.
He remembered all the blood in the sink.
“The one thing that stood out was (her) baby in one of those cranked-up swings,” Cape said. “The timers on those things can only go so long. It’s questionable whether it was running low and he cranked it back up. We don’t know if he did or not.”
But Cape can still see the baby girl swinging back and forth in his mind’s eye as he recalled the crime scene.
Ridley, who was Olivera’s brother-in-law, was indicted three years later on Sept. 12, 1995, on charges of murder, rape, kidnapping and burglary in Olivera’s killing.
He pleaded not guilty in November 1995. The case was dead docketed, or indefinitely suspended, on Jan. 27, 1999, at the request of the prosecution.
“We had some evidentiary problems, and we chose not to go further,” said Timothy Vaughn, district attorney for the Oconee Judicial Circuit, which includes Pulaski County.
Vaughn declined to elaborate on the evidence but said the Olivera case currently is under review.
“The possibility exists that we may move this forward,” he said. “But at this time, we have not made that decision yet.”
Vaughn confirmed that he and law enforcement officers met with Hartwig a few months ago to compare notes and talk about both the Warner Robins and Hawkinsville slayings. He declined to comment on the Warner Robins murder case, referring questions to Hartwig.
Before she was Teresa Brown’s roommate, Olivera lived with her sister and Ridley in their Warner Robins home after she became pregnant in 1991 and until she graduated from Northside High School in 1992. She then moved back to Hawkinsville to live with Brown.
Brown still lives in the same white house with pink trim and shutters on Fairway Lane. She said she moved out for about a year after the slaying and then returned.
She said last week she would like to see Ridley prosecuted even if he is serving a life sentence for another crime.
“Because it’s wrong, first off, to kill someone,” Brown said. “It hurts because it was in my house, and she was related to me by my nephew.”
Olivera was nice young woman who was respectful, said Brown, who raised Olivera’s daughter, who now lives and works in Atlanta.
WARNER ROBINS RAPE
On Aug. 22, 1988, a woman awoke shortly before sunrise to find a man kneeling over her with a gun to her head. His face was covered, but she could see his eyes.
He bound her hands behind her back, and her feet were tied with cords.
The man took off her clothes and raped her on the floor near her infant son’s crib while her other three children slept in the house.
Ridley’s arrest for the rape shocked the community. Two years earlier he had been recognized by Centerville leaders after putting out a car fire that was dangerously close to a family’s home. He had been employee of the year at a Shoney’s restaurant in Warner Robins and had previously served two years in the National Guard.
He and his victim had worked together at the Shoney’s that has long since gone out of business.
Ridley, who dropped out of Northside High School in 1988, was convicted of the rape by a jury and in the summer of 1995 was sentenced to life in prison. Houston County Superior Court Judge Edward D. Lukemire, who was the prosecutor in that case, had Ridley’s fingerprint from the victim’s curling iron. Ridley had removed its cord to bind her. Lukemire also had a DNA match of Ridley’s blood sample and other bodily fluids recovered in the rape investigation.
But the conviction was overturned in 1999 by the state Court of Appeals. The appellate court took issue with Lukemire’s jury selection for disallowing potential black jurors who either knew Ridley or his family, had the same last name or who had watched TV coverage of “a prominent black defendant.”
In February 2006, a second Houston County jury found Ridley guilty of the rape, this time with much of the evidence and earlier witnesses unavailable. But the prosecution still had the fingerprint.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.