published Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

Three charged in death of Alabama man found in burned car

Two Marshall County, Ala., residents and another from DeKalb County, Ala., were charged Tuesday in connection with the disappearance and death of a Boaz, Ala., man.

Christopher Todd Cagle, 28, and Delia May Downs, 33, both of Albertville, Ala., and Michael Stanley Townsel Jr., 28, of Fort Payne, Ala., have been jailed on kidnapping charges, according to officials.

The three each are being held on $1 million bonds in connection with the death of 38-year-old Gary Lee Willis, who had been reported missing in Etowah County, according to a Marshall County Sheriff's Office news release. Etowah, Marshall and DeKalb counties have been jointly working on the case since Willis' body was found Dec. 17 in a burned car near Geraldine, Ala., on County Road 135.

An autopsy indicated Willis had been shot multiple times. Geraldine is about 17 miles southwest of Fort Payne.

Marshall County Sheriff's Office Lt. Heath Thomas said Tuesday that the trio are being held at the DeKalb County Jail and will be transferred to Marshall County later.

DeKalb County sheriff's investigators developed information that led the probe to Marshall County, where authorities say they established that Willis had been at a home on Old McVille Road off Alabama Highway 75 near the Marshall-DeKalb county line on Dec. 13, and was taken from that location against his will, the Marshall County release states.

"The investigation into the murder of Willis is ongoing at this time," the release states.

Investigators from DeKalb, Etowah and Marshall counties will meet with district attorneys' office officials from DeKalb and Marshall counties to discuss the investigation and more charges, according to the release.

Marshall County Sheriff Scott Walls says the three in custody are the suspects in Willis' slaying.

"At this time, we have the individuals in custody that we believe are responsible for death of Mr. Willis," Walls states in the release. "They are currently charged with kidnapping 1st, and because this offense occurred between multiple counties, we have more evidence and information to gather before going forward with additional charges, such as murder."

Investigators from DeKalb and Marshall counties will work through the Christmas holiday to close the case "so that we can move forward with additional charges," Walls said.

Etowah County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Natalie Barton said last week that a family member reported Willis missing on Dec. 16.

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

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

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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