A South Carolina father killed his five children “early on” after they went missing and carried their bodies, wrapped in plastic bags, in the back of his car as he drove through several states before dumping them in Alabama, investigators now believe.
The bodies of the five children, ages 1 to 8, were found Tuesday afternoon in a wooded area off a dirt road near Highway 10, east of Oak Hill, Ala., said Lewis McCarty, sheriff of Lexington County, S.C.
The father, Timothy Jones Jr. of Lexington County, led investigators to the bodies, which McCarty said were wrapped in individual plastic bags and in an “advanced state of decomposition.”
Jones, 32, is expected to be charged with five counts of murder in the coming days, McCarty said.
Officials believe the children were killed all at once in South Carolina, and that Jones had driven through five states over “several days” before leaving the bodies in a wooded clearing.
Authorities said they still don’t know why Jones, who they say is a computer engineer, may have killed his children, and have no indication that he had a history of mental illness.
Police have seized Jones' personal computer and are in the process of downloading its contents, McCarty said.
No cause of death has been determined for the five bodies.
Speaking to reporters, authorities displayed photos of the five smiling children, but declined to name them until autopsy results confirm the identities of the remains. Records released by the Sheriff’s Department describe the children as an 8-year-old girl, a 7-year-old boy, a 6-year-old boy, a 2-year-old boy and a 1-year-old girl.
Social services officials revealed Wednesday that Jones had been the subject of an open investigation for unspecified child abuse when he disappeared with his five children.
A complaint was filed against Jones on Aug. 7, alleging “some type of abuse,” said Jackie Swindler of the South Carolina Department of Social Services. An investigator and sheriff’s deputies went to the home that same day, interviewing Jones, his children and neighbors.
“At that time there was nothing to alarm them immediately," Swindler said. "There was nothing that showed that the children were in any kind of imminent danger or peril at that time.”
The case remained open, and a follow-up visit was supposed to be scheduled within 45 days.
The children were reported missing by their mother on Sept. 3 and were last seen with their father, who had primary custody of them.
On Aug. 28, sheriff’s deputies said, Jones picked up his three older children from school and then retrieved the younger two from daycare.
That same day, authorities say, Jones forced all five of his children out of his car near a Wal-Mart store in Lexington County, putting them “in unreasonable risk of harm,” according to a warrant issued for his arrest on unlawful neglect.
It was the last time anyone reported seeing the children alive.
Jones’ children failed to show up for school the next day, and were absent again the Tuesday after the Labor Day weekend.
On the evening of Sept. 3, the mother reported to sheriff’s deputies that she had not been able to contact her ex-husband for several days, and that the children’s school became concerned after they did not show up, McCarty said. Neighbors had told deputies that Jones said he was moving his children to another state.
Authorities with the Lexington County Sheriff's Department and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division on Wednesday defended the fact that they had not issued an Amber Alert for the children’s disappearance, citing the fact that Jones had legal custody of the children, and that the mother had stated she’d had trouble reaching her ex-husband in the past.
“It’s kind of hard to tell a custodial parent that you can’t take your children … or where they can go,” McCarty said. “It’s a balancing act.”
Jones was arrested at a DUI checkpoint in Raleigh, Miss., on Saturday night. Officers there noticed an odd chemical smell coming from his car, said Charlie Crumpton, sheriff of Smith County, Miss.
Inside, they found blood, bleach and other cleaning materials, McCarty told reporters. They also saw children’s clothes, but no children, McCarty said.
After arresting him Saturday night, officers ran his license plates and discovered Jones and his five children were on the National Crime Information Center’s missing persons database.
McCarty, who was visibly shaken while speaking to reporters, said he’d never seen a case like this in his career. “I’m a father and I’m a grandfather,” he said. “It’s hard to work a case with one child or one murder. It’s very difficult to work two. But five is extremely hard.”
The bodies of the children have been transported back to South Carolina, McCarty said, and sheriff’s officials are waiting to extradite Jones to South Carolina.
McCarty said the children's mother is "in shock" and "extremely distraught."
“I made a promise to these children’s mother that I would bring these children home,” McCarty said. “We have accomplished that.”
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