The shopping center where the killer lay in wait was tucked on a hillside below a Waffle House and Logan’s Roadhouse.
It was just after 11 a.m. on July 29. The lunch rush hadn’t begun there along one of Macon’s most congested freeway interchanges.
Locals and passers-through alike streamed onto Arkwright Road from Interstate 75, many steering north up a rise toward an Outback Steakhouse, a Carrabba’s, a gas mart.
But down the hill beyond that, past an entrance to the Comfort Inn, no one apparently saw the killer with the gun lurking. He may have hidden in a rental car and disguised himself with a brown wig.
It isn’t clear how long Christopher Michael Dukes, armed with a .22-caliber pistol and bent on revenge, waited.
But about 11:15 a.m., the man he was hunting stepped out for lunch.
Randall Kinard, who worked there in the shopping center at Azul Salon and Spa, was the new boyfriend of Duke’s former companion, a man named Ashley Battle.
That morning, Kinard was driving Battle’s orange Jeep Wrangler. It was a vehicle that Dukes himself had once driven, back before he and Battle split up earlier this year.
Dukes, 41, and Battle, 33, who’d been together 14 years, had lived together and owned a house off Dunbar Road on the north side of Warner Robins. They broke up in February, and their house was up for sale.
Dukes’ life had come unraveled in recent weeks. He had all but cleaned out his bank accounts and penned farewell letters to loved ones.
Now on his lunch break, here came Kinard, who had no idea Dukes was stalking him.
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No one will likely ever know exactly what happened or what was said when Dukes confronted Kinard that Wednesday morning in late July. There are no known witnesses.
Dukes, though, soon after accosting Kinard, shot him once in the back, near his right shoulder. The bullet pierced both lungs and his heart. Kinard, who was 33, bled to death.
Investigators believe Kinard was shot while the Jeep was parked outside the salon.
Authorities have since speculated that Dukes may have hidden in the Jeep, possibly in the back seat, and waited for Kinard to get in. Dukes may also have rushed up after Kinard opened the driver’s door.
Another theory is that Kinard was shot when Dukes forced Kinard from the driver’s seat, shoving him into the passenger’s side, where blood pooled on the floorboard.
Dukes may have planned to kidnap Kinard, who did microdermabrasion treatments at the salon, and hold him hostage at the house in Warner Robins where Dukes and Battle had lived together.
Dukes left behind the rental car, a white Toyota Yaris he’d driven to the shopping center that morning and headed south down the interstate with Kinard, his captive.
Kinard’s driver’s license and blood-coated cellphone were found near the I-75 split at I-16, about four miles south of the salon. That leads investigators to think Kinard was shot soon after he was abducted.
Kinard was either dead or bleeding to death as Dukes drove him to the Warner Robins house. When they got to the home, on Heritage Drive, Dukes probably carried Kinard in through the garage and left him on the living room floor, investigators said.
Dukes then set 10 or so small fires inside the house. After that, sometime before 12:30 p.m., he went upstairs into a bedroom. He shut and locked the door behind him. Then he stuck a .380-caliber pistol to his temple and pulled the trigger.
Minutes later, neighbors saw smoke and reported the blaze.
Based on interviews with Houston County sheriff’s officials as well as details in investigative case files, the plot Dukes carried out was as methodical as it was manic.
Though he will never go on trial or be sent to prison, his acts amount to one of the more disturbing slayings in recent local history.
Dukes wanted certain music played at his funeral, and he also wanted Battle to suffer for the rest of his life.
In a farewell letter to Battle written in purple ink, Dukes blamed the murder-suicide on Battle and called him “a coward.”
“Randall and I,” Dukes wrote, “will be waiting for you in hell.”
* * *
Before he killed himself, Dukes seemed worried most about “my babies.”
That’s what he called his four dogs.
When he and Battle broke up, they shared custody of the animals.
Three of the dogs were named after characters on the television soap operas “Dallas” and “Dynasty.”
There was Sue Ellen, a poodle; Sable, a Yorkipoo; and Dominique, a long-haired teacup Chihuahua. The fourth was a teacup Chihuahua named Paris.
The morning of the killing, Dukes, who was raised in Dublin, called Battle, his former companion, one last time. The call was made about the time Kinard disappeared.
Dukes told Battle it was his “last chance” to tell him why he’d broken up with Dukes. Battle told Dukes he was too busy to talk.
Dukes also called his best friend, Jessica Beckham.
Beckham, 39, who lives in Warner Robins, later told investigators that Dukes had told her goodbye, that he loved her and that he had shot or was going to shoot Kinard.
She said Dukes previously told her he’d rented the Toyota a couple of days earlier to spy on Kinard and Battle at the Hummingbird nightclub in downtown Macon. She said Dukes schemed to call 911 and report the couple for driving drunk.
But authorities think the car actually was rented to stalk Kinard at the salon.
At 11:55 a.m., roughly 45 minutes after Kinard was abducted, Dukes sent Beckham a private Facebook message: “My plan for revenge is in motion. ... It’s already too late to stop it.”
Dukes asked her to go to his apartment on Leisure Lake in Warner Robins and look in the dishwasher.
“Take the black bag and follow the instructions inside,” Dukes wrote. He also asked her to check on the dogs.
Beckham, who had a spare key, went to the apartment, opened the dishwasher and took out the black bag, a duffel.
Inside were letters to Beckham, Battle and to Dukes’ relatives. There also was jewelry and a $900 check made out to Beckham.
In the letter to Beckham dated July 5, Dukes wrote, “I really hate it had to come to this, but I just don’t have it in me anymore to fight. At least this way it can be on my terms, and I can cause Ashley misery, too. After everything he has done and said to me, I still can’t imagine life without him.”
* * *
Dukes reportedly tried to kill himself in February. He’d been hospitalized and later gone to therapy.
When Beckham went to his apartment on July 29 after receiving Dukes’ alarming messages, she thought he was about to hurt himself again.
When she went into the apartment to look in the dishwasher, she saw his belongings boxed up.
The letter he left for her asked Beckham not to hate him.
“I need you to help finish out my final wishes,” Dukes wrote. “There is no one else on this earth that I trust as much as you.”
He gave her permission to do what she wanted with his stuff.
“If Ashley tries to claim anything, let him have what’s left. All except the cash,” Dukes wrote. “You get that and only we will know how much.”
Dukes was adamant that Battle “not get one cent.” He figured Battle might get insurance money for the burned house.
“But being arson,” he wrote, “who knows.”
Dukes hoped Battle would tend to the dogs. He told Beckham his Facebook password and asked her to delete any “nasty” comments on his page.
He left prices on some of his collectible dolls that were in the apartment. He estimated they would fetch $500 or more.
In a binder, authorities found cartoon drawings of violent acts, but there was no indication he had ever hurt anyone in the past.
The biggest hint at what set Dukes off, though, was included in his letter to Beckham. He lashed out at Battle, who declined to comment for this story.
“I really had started to move on and was getting my mind back to a good place,” Dukes wrote.
But he claimed Battle “always did and said s--- and would upset me. He did it to be cruel. ... He wanted to push my buttons.”
Dukes added that “the final straw for me was the business with the Jeep. Posting on (Facebook) for all the world to see him making a joke about something that was so hard for me to let go of.”
Dukes was apparently referring to a fairly recent dispute about the Jeep.
“Then when I confronted him and he yelled at me saying that was never my f------ Jeep anyway, and I should thank him for letting me use it this long, something snapped in me,” Dukes wrote.
“My first reaction was to go back and kill them both. But (Battle’s) suffering would not last long enough. I had to do something that would make him suffer for as long as I could. That one thing would be to take away his Randall.”
Dukes wrote that his “need for revenge is far more important than my own life.”
He also wished that he could be around to see Battle suffer, but that he would have never survived in prison.
* * *
Beckham didn’t want to discuss the events surrounding Kinard’s murder and Dukes’ suicide for this story.
“I don’t want to relive this,” she said in an interview last week. “I don’t support what Chris did, but I will always love him and I will always consider him a brother and a best friend.”
Another friend, Mendy Harrison, thought of Dukes as a member of her family.
“There were a lot of things that led up to this,” said Harrison, 40, who lives in Macon. “He was a human being. The person he was with for 14 years left him for another person. ... We don’t know what drove him to his breaking point.”
She said Dukes and Battle had together financed the 2012 Jeep, and that Dukes had agreed to let Battle have it when they split up.
The issue, Harrison said, wasn’t so much the Jeep as it was how belittled and bullied Dukes felt over it.
Dukes’ funeral was Aug. 1 in Dublin.
He’d asked that they play a song called “Forever Young” from the TV drama “Sons of Anarchy.” He also requested “Primadonna Girl” by Power Girl.
Dukes also wanted his ashes scattered at his grandmother’s grave, and for people to send donations to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
He didn’t want anyone sending flowers.
* * *
Though it was damaged by smoke and flames, the house where Dukes killed himself didn’t burn to the ground.
Photographs that investigators took in the bedroom where Dukes shot himself show a puddle of blood, and near it a small red teddy bear and a picture of three women he apparently knew.
Also in the house were empty cans of lighter fluid, two pairs of handcuffs and a wig.
Houston sheriff’s Capt. Jon Holland said, “We assume he made some sort of effort to disguise himself to abduct Kinard.”
Dukes’ final flourish, perhaps his most venomous jab of all, came in his letter to Battle.
Dukes wrote that he hoped Battle’s decision “to pick Randall over me brought you five months of happiness because now he is gone.”
Dukes also asked Battle to take care of their dogs.
Then Dukes, in a vindictive parting shot at Battle, penned the words of an enraged and jealous man.
“I hope you suffer the way I did,” Dukes wrote. “Your lies and lust turned me into a monster. I hope you are happy! I hope that Jeep keeps you warm at night.”
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559 and find her on Twitter @BecPurser. To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397 and find him on Twitter@joekovacjr.