BY BRIAN JONES
COLUMBUS – An arrest has been made in the 1996 murder of Mack Fowler.
David Solomon Murray II, 52, of 438 Earle Street, Jackson, has been charged with capital murder in the crime after a DNA sample taken 10 years ago produced a hit this week.
Murray was taken before Municipal Court Judge Rhonda Ellis at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday an arraigned. He was charged with capital murder, and was denied bond. A preliminary hearing is set for June 8 at 1:30 p.m.
Captain Brent Swan said that the arrest resulted from DNA evidence that dated back to the 1990s.
“On July 9, 1996, Columbus Police Department officers were called 2405 Third Avenue North for a report of a deceased person,” Swan said. “Mack Fowler was found to have been murdered in his home on either July 8 or the early morning hours of July 9. There was evidence that was processed and submitted to the state crime lab, and in 1999 a substantial amount of DNA testing went on. Several leads were gained in this case.”
That DNA sample matched another sample collected last year in Jackson. CPD learned a match had been made on May 16.
“On October 16, 2016, the Jackson Police Department arrested (Murray) and collected a DNA swab as part of the arrest,” Swan said. “Once it was processed, the DNA profile matched our crime scene. On May 22, an arrest warrant was issued by Circuit Court Judge Jim Kitchens for (Murray) on the charge of capital murder. On May 23, he was arrested by the US Marshals Service Fugitive Task Force in Jackson and he was transported back to Columbus.”
Swan said that Murray was “an invited guest” in Fowler’s home.
“Investigators determined that an altercation that turned physical started in the living room and moved towards the back of the home,” Swan said. “Mr. Fowler was beaten and stabbed.”
Murray will be charged with capital murder because robbery played a role in the killing, Swan said.
Swan said Murray is a native of Pine Bluff, Ark., and lived in Columbus from 1996 until 2005. He moved to Jackson around 2005, Swan said. He would not elaborate on Swan’s criminal background, if any.
Murray “has been cooperative with the investigation,” Swan said.
“We are very excited to make an arrest in a murder investigation no matter how long it takes,” said Police Chief Oscar Lewis.
Swan said he talked to the next-of-kin about the pending arrest.
“I talked to a grandson early this morning, and I spoke to a granddaughter also,” Swan said. “They are really, really excited. This is really overwhelming for them. They weren’t expecting it and it came out of the blue.”
Austin Shepherd, director of the Columbus Crime Lab, said that he had re-submitted DNA evidence in 2006.
“Then-Police Chief JD Sanders had me look at some of the evidence from these unsolved homicides,” he said. “I spent about a year going through these case files and look strictly at the physical evidence. What analysis had been done and what is available now that was not available then? I saw that there were some possibilities for retesting, and we resubmitted several of those and were able to redevelop a really good DNA profile. We got that put on the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, and the rest is history.”
“DNA has gone through a complete change in technology from the 1990s to what we use today,” said Mississippi Crime Lab Director Sam Howell. “Our DNA database only began in 2006, but we have over 100,000 profiles. In 2015 we began putting in felony arrestees into the database. An arrestee sample was used in this case, and we got a hit from the evidence that had been created back in 1996.”
A lot has changed since the original DNA samples were taken, Howell said.
“The technique originally done in 1999 as part of this case is not as discriminatory as the technique that is used today,” he said. “That’s why it was important to reanalyze with today’s standards so that we could utilized the DNA database.”
Howell said that 650 hits had resulted from the DNA database in 11 years.
“This was one of the older cases,” he said.
District Attorney Scott Colom said the case will be presented to the grand jury as soon as possible.
“The case will be presented to a grand jury at the next possible opportunity, and if an indictment is handed down my office will prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law and hopefully give the Fowler family justice after all these years. The cooperation and the hard work between the different agencies is a sign that no matter how old case is we are going to do everything we can to make an arrest and bring the family justice.”
Fowler was found strangled and stabbed in his East Columbus home on July 9, 1996. His was the first of five murders of elderly residents that would go on to become Columbus legend and inspire a notorious episode of CBS’ 48 Hours. The killings took place between July 1996 and November 1998 and claimed the lives of five elderly residents. In addition to Fowler, George Wilbanks, 70, was found stabbed and strangled in his North Columbus home on Nov. 2, 1997. On Oct. 13, 1998, Robert Hannah, 61, was found in his home after a fire. It was believed at the time that the fire had been set to cover up the evidence. On Oct. 20, 1998, Louise Randall, 61, was found in her home, and on Nov. 17,1998, Betty Everett, 67, was found dead. Hannah, Randall and Everett had all been bound, gagged and strangled.
All of the victims lived within a three-mile radius of one another.
The murders spawned all manner of conspiracy theories, including that a serial killer had passed through town and committed the murders while here.
“This is a prime example of good old fashioned professional and ethical casework,” said former head of CID and former police chief Selvain McQueen. “We processed the crime scene in 100-degree weather, leaving no stone unturned. Twenty-something years later, the case has a suspect due to the DNA database and the collection of evidence.
“This case could have been ruled no foul play or accidental,” he said. “Nonetheless the crime scene was worked and Mr. Fowler’s family and friends are well on their way to closure. Since I was accused of not solving some of the unsolved cases via the McQueen Facts (blog) during the mayoral election, it leaves one to wonder whether I will be mentioned in a positive sense as it relates to this matter. Only time will tell.”