published Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Franklin County police focus on 'persons of interest'

Franklin County homicide
Franklin County homicide
Illustration by Laura McNutt.

TO HELP AUTHORITIES

Anyone with information about the death of Kayla Qualls should contact 1-800-TBI-FIND or Franklin County Crime Stoppers at 931-962-INFO.

Franklin County, Tenn., authorities say they have two "persons of interest" in the death of Kayla D. Qualls, a mother of two whose body was found Monday by hunters in a remote, wooded area.

Monday's slaying was the second killing of a young area woman since July in the northwest corner of Franklin County just south of Tullahoma, which is in Coffee County.

Qualls, 23, a 2007 Moore County High School graduate, was last seen alive Monday morning before she was supposed to pick up her son and take him to school, according to Franklin County Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. Chris Guess.

"The routine was for her to drop her child off at preschool, but she didn't drop off her child," Guess said Wednesday.

About 11 a.m. CST Monday, two hunters reported finding a suspicious vehicle in the woods off Spring Creek Road in Franklin County a couple of miles south of the Coffee County line, Guess said.

Deputies dispatched to check out the vehicle found what later was identified as Qualls' body in the back of a red 2000 Ford Explorer that was registered to her in Moore County, Tenn. Qualls, who lived on East Lincoln Street in Tullahoma, was the mother of children ages 2 and 5, Guess said.

Both children since have been found unharmed.

Preliminary autopsy results show Qualls died of blunt force trauma to the head, Guess said. A detailed autopsy report is pending.

Since Monday, detectives searched a home on General Street in Tullahoma, which produced evidence officials said was turned over to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's crime lab Wednesday.

Guess said investigators went to Qualls' home the day her body was found to make sure her children were safe and to clear that house as a crime scene.

Investigators don't think Qualls was killed at the site where her body was found, but say she was killed nearby not long before the body was found.

On July 2, 24-year-old Tullahoma nursing student Megan Sharpton's body was found on Awalt Road in Franklin County, about 10 miles from where Qualls' body was found Monday.

Authorities say there is no connection between the two slayings. An arrest has been made in the Sharpton case.

Franklin County Sheriff Tim Fuller called the latest slaying a "senseless act" that was not random. Guess said officials believe there is no looming danger to the public at large.

"Essentially, we're pretty focused in on two persons of interest, but we're not expecting to make an arrest in the next five minutes or anything," Fuller said.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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