Autopsy: Man taken from city strangled

Published 12:04 pm Friday, March 11, 2011

Vicksburg police are in Alabama today, trying to piece together what happened to an Ohio man who went missing here on Monday and whose body was found Wednesday near a Bessemer motel.

The cause of death was strangulation, a preliminary autopsy report released this morning said.

The body of David M. Cupps, 53, was identified Thursday in Bessemer, an Interstate 20 town about 265 miles east from where police believe he was carjacked on Pemberton Square Boulevard by two Louisiana state prison escapees.

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“We are still piecing together the series of events that led up to the finding of Mr. Cupps’ body,” Vicksburg police Lt. Bobby Stewart said today from Bessemer, after flying there Thursday with Louisiana officials to work with them, Bessemer police, U.S. Marshals and agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The medical examiner estimates Cupps had been dead about 24 to 36 hours before his body was found Wednesday around 1:50 p.m. in tall grass 20 to 30 yards from the edge of the parking lot at the Bessemer Comfort Inn, Stewart said.

Strangulation was the cause of death, the lieutenant said, but Cupps had also been beaten, the Jefferson County, Ala., medical examiner’s report said.

It was unclear where Cupps was killed, Stewart said. Vicksburg police plan to file kidnapping and carjacking charges, he said, while Bessemer authorities will seek homicide charges.

Police believe Cupps came in contact Monday evening with Ricky Wedgeworth, 36, and Darian Pierce, 33, who had escaped three days earlier from a Louisiana prison work detail near Baton Rouge and hitchhiked to Vicksburg.

Vicksburg police Chief Walter Armstrong said blood stains on the back seat of Cupps’ vehicle indicate he might have been assaulted as he was removing clothing or belongings from the car preparing to check in to his motel.

Cupps flew to Mississippi Monday for an inspection job at Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Station near Port Gibson, and last spoke with his wife by phone about 4 p.m. on the way to the motel, which Armstrong declined to identify.

Cupps never checked in, and did not report for work or his return flight Tuesday.

His rental car was found Tuesday night near Jackson, Tenn., with blood stains inside and information that was linked to Wedgeworth and Pierce.

The two had escaped March 4, last Friday, from a prison work detail, stealing a Louisiana state-issued van and driving it to the St. Francisville area, 130 miles south of Vicksburg, where they abandoned it and continued on foot along U.S. 61, authorities have said.

Armstrong said a Vicksburg man came to police Thursday and said he picked the two up about two miles south of St. Francisville, gave them a ride to Vicksburg and dropped them off at Riverwalk Casino around 2:45 p.m. The inmates’ absence was discovered by Louisiana authorities around 2 p.m.

“There was no indication (the man) knew they were escapees,” the chief said. “They were dressed in civilian clothing.”

Armstrong said police have learned that Wedgeworth and Pierce walked to Rainbow Casino, where they ate lunch and then left at 3:30. They spent the weekend in the Vicksburg area, though there are indications they might have crossed back over into Louisiana on foot or hitchhiked for part of that time, he added.

“What’s alarming is that these very dangerous men were staying in our community for three nights and four days,” the chief said.

Monday morning, a Vicksburg woman called 911 to report seeing two men matching the escapees’ descriptions walking in the area of Captain D’s on Pemberton Square Boulevard, Stewart said.

Cupps’ rental car was recovered near Jackson, Tenn., after a state trooper attempted to make a traffic stop Tuesday night. Two men believed to be Wedgeworth and Pierce reportedly got out of the car, then jumped back in and led troopers on a chase along Interstate 40.

Troopers put down spike strips to disable the vehicle and at one point they had it boxed in, said Armstrong, but the driver rammed police vehicles and the two men were able to get out of the car and escape on foot.

A manhunt continued overnight in western Tennessee, with residents put on alert and schools on lockdown, but Wedgeworth and Pierce had not been found as of this morning. Law enforcement agencies in 25 states have been put on alert.

Wedgeworth, a Memphis native, was convicted of armed robbery in Louisiana in 2006. He also has a criminal history in Shelby County, Tenn., police said. He is white, 5-foot-8 and about 145 pounds with reddish brown hair and brown eyes. He has tattoos on his arms, chest and abdomen.

Pierce, of Bogalusa, La., was serving a sentence for attempted second-degree murder. He is white, 5-foot-11 and about 145 pounds with brown hair and eyes and tattooed fingers on his right hand.

Anyone with information related to the case is urged to call Vicksburg police at 601-636-2511 or Stewart at 601-831-1168.