US manhunt after killings and abduction of three children

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The Independent US

Police in Georgia launched a manhunt yesterday for a petty thief after the bodies of four family members were found shot to death at the home of his estranged in-laws and three children aged three to 10 were reported missing, presumed abducted.

Throughout the northwestern corner of the American state, police were stopping all vehicles bearing a resemblance to Jerry William Jones's red four-wheel-drive Ford Explorer. A warrant was out for his arrest.

A police spokesman said the killings, some time on Wednesday afternoon, were "very methodical". John Bankhead, of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said: "This wasn't quick. He clearly took his time."

Police and surviving family members said the killings and the apparent abductions were related to the break-up of Mr Jones's six-year relationship with the mother of his three pre-school children. According to one relative, David O'Donnell, Mr Jones, 31, called Melissa Peeler to tell her about the murders and warned her that if she went to the police he would "starting killing the [abducted] kids one by one".

Ms Peeler called the authorities and asked them to check on her parents late on Wednesday. That was when they discovered the bodies. Mr O'Donnell said they were those of Ms Peeler's parents, Tom and Nola Blaylock, one of the Blaylocks' adult children, Georgia Bradley, and Mr Jones's own infant daughter Harley.

The three missing children were named as Brittney Phelps, 10, Ms Peeler's oldest child by a previous relationship, and the two other children she had with Mr Jones, Brandy, four, and Tammy, three.

A mugshot-style photo of Mr Jones, showing a pudgy face with glasses and straggly, unkempt brown hair down to the shoulders, was distributed through the news media. A police spokesman, Mike Garigan, said the working theory was that Mr Jones had reacted with extreme violence after Ms Peeler broke up with him over Christmas. She was visiting her new boyfriend in Oregon, on the other side of the country, when the killings took place. "She had been trying to get away from him, and something happened that triggered this," Mr Garigan said.

The police said Mr Jones had several convictions for shoplifting, car theft, burglary and receiving stolen goods, and had been jailed for traffic offences. The Gordon County sheriff, Jerry Davis said: "We've had him in our jail and we're fixing to put him back in our jail. We're gonna put him back on the chain gang he was on."

His former brother-in-law, Mr O'Donnell, described him as "an idiot" with a loose temper. "He broke into my barn five years ago and shot a horse just because he was mad at me," Mr O'Donnell said. "I worry for the safety of the children and my own family."