As the fifth day ended in the search for Adolph "Sonny" Neal, suspected of killing his wife and her grandfather, detectives believe the 49-year-old might be dead.
"It's a 50/50 split if he's alive ... or [he's] dead," said Greg Ramey, Georgia Bureau of Investigation assistant special agent in charge of the Calhoun, Ga., office. "The things we should be finding we aren't finding."
Neal, who goes by Sonny, was named a suspect Thursday night hours after his 9-year-old daughter found her great-grandfather, Don Shedd, dead in the kitchen of their Dawnville home. Police then found the girl's 27-year-old mother, Jessica Neal, dead in the home's pool house.
Police described the killings as gory and violent but won't say how Jessica Neal and her grandfather died as long as Sonny Neal is on the loose.
But police aren't sure how he got away. They believe they've accounted for all the vehicles he owned or had access to, Ramey said. The weapons believed to be used in the killing also have been found.
"We can't tell whether he's being helped by someone else," Ramey said.
Georgia Department of Corrections tracking dogs were brought in to search the area but found nothing, Ramey said. GBI agents, sheriff's office investigators and U.S. marshals are all involved in the search, and a national lookout alert was issued last week.
There is another theory that Sonny Neal harmed himself after he fled, Ramey said.
Sonny and Jessica Neal lived with their daughter, Shedd and Sonny Neal's stepfather at 1200 Green Springs Road, police said. Everyone was home when police say Sonny Neal killed his wife and her 70-year-old grandfather between 10 p.m. Wednesday and early Thursday morning.
Police don't believe Sonny Neal's stepfather knew what happened because he has dementia. But the 9-year-old girl found Shedd early in the morning and ran to a neighbor's house saying: "Somebody's killed my papaw."
Family members said the couple was going through a difficult time in their marriage before the killings.
The couple married eight years ago, when Jessica Neal was 19 and Sonny Neal was 41. Together they ran a tanning salon called Dazzle off Cleveland Highway. Jessica Neal was going to school to become a dental hygienist, friends and family said.
The little girl was the center of Jessica Neal's world, family members said. She snapped photos with her daughter every morning and Shedd picked up the little girl nearly every afternoon from school.
Sonny Neal was funny and well liked, said Miranda Buckner, his 23-year-old daughter from his first marriage. But he also enjoyed bars and drinking and each time he was arrested it involved both, she said.
His criminal record includes charges of disorderly conduct, and theft by taking, according to Whitfield County Jail records. His latest arrest in 2010 came on charges of simple battery and public drunkenness, records show.
But each time he was arrested, he was upset and would show remorse, Buckner said Tuesday.
"He was upset every time, but it was just him drinking," she said.
Staff writers Ben Benton and Kate Harrison contributed to this article.
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6659.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...