An intensive two-day manhunt for James Barton Horn Jr. ended Saturday with police killing the double homicide suspect at a wildlife refuge near the boundary between Johnson and Pettis counties.
Horn was being sought in the shooting deaths of Sandra Sutton, 42, and her 17-year-old son, Zachary Wade Sutton, who were found dead Thursday morning at a house in Clinton, Mo.
Officers acting on a tip found Horn late Saturday morning inside a house at the Kearn Memorial Wildlife Refuge near Green Ridge, Mo., said Clinton Assistant Police Chief Sonny Lynch.
The Missouri Conservation Department owned the unoccupied house, according to Sgt. Bill Lowe of the Missouri Highway Patrol.
Officers with the Missouri Rural Major Case Squad had been searching abandoned houses and other structures in the area for Horn, a convicted sex offender who had been a fugitive since late April after Sandra Sutton escaped the Sedalia, Mo., home where he allegedly held her prisoner for months. Authorities believe Horn tracked Sutton early Thursday to a relative’s house in Clinton and killed her and her son.
The major case squad arrived at the wildlife refuge house about 11:15 a.m. Saturday, according to Lowe.
Officers found Horn hiding in a closet, armed with a handgun. When he displayed it in a threatening manner, officers fired.
“They felt that their lives were threatened,” Lowe said.
Investigators said they had not determined if Horn fired any shots.
For the Sutton family, news that Horn no longer was on the loose brought a sense of relief.
“We feel safe now,” said Roxine Mallory, younger sister of Sandra Sutton. “We feel like we can get some sleep and not have to worry. It’s been a crazy, tiring couple of days.”
Horn, 47, was a former boyfriend of Sandra Sutton and had worked with some of her relatives. He was charged earlier this month with holding her captive, at times in a wooden box, inside his Sedalia home. Police had been unable to find Horn since Sutton escaped.
Friends and relatives were to have a vigil Saturday night to remember Sandra and Zachary Sutton at Clinton Christian Church, a Disciples of Christ denomination where funeral services for mother and son are schedule for 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Zachary Sutton was active in his church, said his pastor, the Rev. David Dubovich.
Growing up, the boy lived with his grandparents, William and Karen Sutton, who also were active in the church.
Dubovich said he first came to know Zachary Sutton 71/2 years ago. Zachary Sutton was only about 10 then.
“He was very, very quiet,” Dubovich said.
But he gradually opened up.
“You couldn’t get him to stop talking when you got him going,” Dubovich said.
Zachary Sutton regularly attended Sunday school and summer church camp. Tuesday ended the school year at Clinton High School, where he had just finished his junior year.
Principal Bryan Pettengill said Zachary Sutton frequently talked about his desire to join the Army once he graduated.
“Anytime our recruiter would show up, he was always first in line to talk,” Pettengill said.
Helen Sersey’s grandson, Cody Sersey, was one of Zach’s closest friends since fifth grade.
Zachary Sutton “was over my house every other day,” she said. “He was a very polite young man. When he was a kid, growing up, he lived with his grandma. Then, for some reason, I don’t know why, I didn’t dive into it, he went to live with his sister for a while. Then his mom moved back to town.”
Cody Sersey, 16, said he and Zachary Sutton had planned to fish and camp out this summer. They played video games at Cody Sersey’s home.
Dubovich said the Sutton family had come to know Horn socially before Sandra Sutton disappeared.
“Nobody knew where she was,” said Dubovich. “What I know is that Horn was around the family a lot and went to picnics with them and everything. He got to know the family well. And then, all of a sudden, she (Sandra Sutton) disappeared.”
Zachary Sutton talked about how glad he was to see his mother return, Sersey said. He was excited about living with her again.
Cody Sersey said Zachary Sutton texted him the night before he was killed. His text read, “My mom said she’ll buy me a car. Do you want to help me make it bad ass?”
Dubovich said the community had been on edge knowing that Horn remained loose since the killings Thursday.
“There’s been a lot of people feeling uneasy,” Dubovich said Saturday. “Now there’s a sense of relief.”
Cody Sersey said, “I’m just happy they found the guy.”
Police had been looking for Horn since April 30, when Sandra Sutton ran to a neighbor’s house in Sedalia and called police. She told them that Horn had confined her in the house for four months, at times locked in a wooden box.
Prosecutors charged Horn in early May with kidnapping, armed criminal action and unlawful use of a weapon.
While police looked for Horn, Sandra Sutton moved in with relatives in Clinton.
Early Thursday morning, her relatives found the bodies of mother and son after returning home from work.
Clinton police almost immediately named Horn as a suspect, and authorities activated a special regional squad of detectives to assist in the investigation and manhunt.
A Clinton police spokesman said Friday that Horn was an avid outdoorsman. Authorities offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to his capture.
Horn had a history of kidnapping and assaulting women. He had moved to Missouri in 2012 after being released from prison over objections of federal authorities, who had sought to prevent his release by having him declared “sexually dangerous.” A federal judge in North Carolina denied the request.
Horn had been listed on the Missouri sex offender registry for the 1992 kidnapping and rape of a woman in Tennessee.
After his release from prison in that case, federal prosecutors in Mississippi charged him with interstate kidnapping.
Horn broke into the home of a woman he formerly had a relationship with. He locked her 8-year-old daughter in a bathroom and raped the woman, according to federal court records.
He then forced the woman to withdraw money from an ATM, locked her in a car trunk and drove her to Springfield, Mo., where he continued to threaten and abuse her.
They then drove to Kansas City, where FBI agents rescued her from a motel room where Horn had been holding a knife to her throat. He was sentenced to nearly 13 years in federal prison.