City police find hammer believed used in Texas killing

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 8, 2004

[1/8/04]A hammer authorities believe was used to beat a Texas man to death has been recovered from near the State Welcome Center in Vicksburg.

Investigators think their suspects, arrested in Florida, ditched the tool here during a brief stop while fleeing the scene where a 63-year-old church organist was beaten to death.

Vicksburg detectives Lt. Billy Brown and Sgt. Jeff Merritt found the hammer at about 4 p.m. Tuesday “down the hill from” the Welcome Center on Washington Street, which overlooks two Mississippi River bridges, Capt. Mark Culbertson said.

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Hundreds of motorists stop at the center, one of the nation’s most scenic, every day. It is staffed during business hours and has 24-hour security.

Brown and Merritt found the hammer within about an hour and a half of when St. Augustine, Fla., police took the two suspects into custody, Culbertson said.

Newspaper reports identified the victim as longtime church organist Dean Suggs, 63, of Price, Texas. Price is about 85 miles southwest of Shreveport, La., in Rusk County where Henderson is the county seat.

He was found bludgeoned in his rural home after he was reported missing Sunday morning by members of his church, The Henderson Daily News reported.

The suspects are Daniel Latham, 22, and his girlfriend, Christina Rogers, 21, St. Augustine Detective Commander Stephen Fricke said.

“They appear to be from the Longview/Henderson, Texas, area, but they didn’t have a permanent address,” Fricke said of the suspects.

Florida authorities planned to send the two back to Texas, where Latham was to be charged with capital murder, Rogers was to be charged with principal to capital murder and both were to be charged with auto theft, the St. Augustine Record newspaper reported.

A warrant for Latham’s arrest on a forgery charge also existed, Fricke said.

Latham and Rogers were stopped by St. Augustine police while traveling with three other people in a red Buick that belonged to Suggs, Fricke said.

He said they had spent the night at the home of Suggs, whom they had met at a homeless shelter near Henderson.

“The next day there was an altercation,” Fricke said. “They fled in his vehicle.”

A St. Augustine police officer on patrol at about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday spotted “five able-bodied people” traveling in a car with a handicapped sticker, checked the license-place number by computer and found that the car was stolen, Fricke said.

Two of the Buick’s three other occupants had connections to Rogers and had been picked up in the Longview area, Fricke said. They were released after giving statements to police, he added.

The third was “a local transient,” who was also released, Fricke said.

Culbertson said the hammer would be retrieved in person by a Henderson detective today.