Small-town Ky. mayor shot dead, suspect surrenders
HICKMAN, Ky. (AP) -- The mayor of a small western Kentucky town was shot dead early Monday morning in his home, and a suspect turned himself in shortly afterward.
Hickman Police Chief Tony Grogan said 30-year-old Thomas Joseph Lattus walked into the police department around 1 a.m. CST and told an officer he had just shot Mayor Charles Murphy. An officer went to Murphy's home and found the mayor's body in the bedroom.
Lattus has been charged with murder and is being held at the Fulton County Jail, where records do not indicate whether he has an attorney. A home phone number for Lattus could not immediately be found Monday morning.
Grogan did not say anything about a motive.
The mayor had dated the suspect's stepmother on and off for years, said Gerald Harris, whose niece is married to the mayor's son. Harris said there were no arguments between Lattus and any of Murphy's family.
City Commissioner Charles Choate also said he knew of the relationship, but he didn't know whether Lattus was upset about it.
Melissa Somerfield, a neighbor of Murphy's for 22 years who also has known Lattus since he was young, described Lattus as unsteady.
"He's been unstable for quite a while, at least the last six years," Somerfield said.
The suspect's stepmother, Carole Lattus, was out of the country and couldn't immediately be reached. Thomas Lattus had been adopted by Carole Lattus when he was boy, Harris said. The suspect's father, Carole Lattus' former husband, died years ago.
The relationship between Murphy and Carole Lattus was common knowledge, Murphy's friends and co-workers said.
"I don't think Tommy cared too much about that," Somerfield said.
But she said his behavior led her to believe that he was unstable, including once when he had a singing outburst at a church service.
"He just got up out of the blue and starting singing aloud. People went and started telling his mother that things were not right with him," she said.
Somerfield said she didn't hear any gunshots Monday morning. She was awakened by her sister at about 2:30 a.m. with the news that the man who once served as her elementary and junior high principal had been killed. Authorities were at Murphy's home until around 4:30 a.m.
"It's been really hard to wrap my head around this," Somerfield said. "He will be greatly missed in the community."
Harris, who owns a tractor business in town, said he's known the popular mayor since grade school. Murphy's family is devastated by the shooting, Harris said.
"They're tore all the pieces, all of them are," Harris said.
Jason Sipes, pastor at West Hickman Baptist Church, told a reporter from The Associated Press that family members gathering at a house would not comment on the shooting.
The city of about 2,500 people in the extreme southwest corner of Kentucky about 265 miles southwest of Louisville, is known for the Hickman-Dorena Ferry, the only connection for automobiles over the Mississippi River between Kentucky and Missouri. Violent crime there is rare.
"We have speeding tickets and running stop signs, but to have something of this magnitude, we may have something like this happen every five to 10 years," City Manager Larry Myatt said.
Morrison Williamson, manager at Hickman Hardware, said he first heard about it early in the morning from his wife.
"Next thing I know, people started calling the store, saying `Did you hear what happened?"' Williamson said.
Murphy, 68, oversaw the city's preparation during historic flooding on the Mississippi River in April and May.
Murphy, a retired school principal, was in his second term as mayor. He previously served on the city board of commissioners. Choate described Murphy as a small farmer who loved to spend time on his property.
"He was a laid-back type man," Somerfield said.
Murphy was also proud that recent audits showed the city's financial situation was improving.
"He was very proud that the city was turning the corner and being more financially responsible," Choate said.
A search of online court records in Kentucky showed that Lattus had no pending civil cases or criminal charges against him in Kentucky.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)