published Friday, December 20th, 2013

Man found in burning car in DeKalb County, Ala., had been shot several times

Authorities in DeKalb County, Ala., are leading the investigation in the death of a 38-year-old Boaz man whose body was found in a burned car near the town of Geraldine.

Gary Lee Willis had been reported missing in Etowah County, DeKalb Sheriff Jimmy Harris said in a news release. DeKalb authorities are working with law enforcement from Marshall and Etowah counties and the Alabama State Fire Marshal's Office, Harris said.

Geraldine police Chief Nelson Gregory responded to the car fire Tuesday just outside the city limits on County Road 135. Geraldine firefighters helped to put out the fire and officials found Willis' body inside. He had been shot multiple times, authorities said.

Geraldine is about 17 miles southwest of Fort Payne.

Willis' body was sent to the Alabama Department of Forensic Science in Huntsville, where his body was identified, officials said.

Harris said in an emailed update Thursday that investigators and state fire officials are taking "numerous statements and interviewing persons of interest in all three counties."

"We have evidence at forensics now being processed as well as some new items being reviewed," he said. "We are getting help from the FBI on electronic devices, and we have more evidence turned over today. We are hopeful this material will increase the strength of our case."

Etowah County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Natalie Barton said Thursday that a family member reported Willis missing Monday.

"He was last seen leaving his home on Leeth Gap Cutoff Road, in the Smith Institute community, on Saturday," Barton said.

Willis' home is about five miles southeast of the Boaz city limits.

Anyone with information about the homicide or Willis' disappearance is asked to call the DeKalb County Sheriff's Office at 256-845-3801.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

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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